It looks like the Catholic Church school strategy to reach out to the Hispanic population is working. As Stephanie Banchero and Stephanie Levitz stated in a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, "For the first time in decades, Catholic education is showing signs of life. Driven by expanding voucher programs, outreach to Hispanic-Catholics, and donations by business leaders, Catholic schools in several major cities are swinging back from closures and declining enrollment."
On December 12, 2008, The University of Notre Dame evaluated the current scholastic achievement gap in the Latino community and the necessity to improve educational opportunities for the community. A year later, their report, To Nurture the Soul of a Nation, explored the situation of Catholic Schools in America and how a focus on the Hispanic community is an excellent path to recovering students and encouraging parent participation. While only a small percent of Latino families were sending their kids to Catholic school, the commission set a goal to increase attendance to six percent by 2020.
The report outlined a dramatic situation. Enrollment was dropping and schools were closing, even in neighborhoods with a high density of Catholics. Hispanics currently make up 32 percent of the Catholic population in America. However, less than five percent of these students attend Catholic schools. On top of this, the economic crisis has made things worse. Many Catholic students couldn't afford to pay school tuition and moved to public schools. According to the report, more than 1,400 Catholic schools have closed since 2000 and almost 500,000 students, as a result, are no longer in Catholic schools. According to the Chicago Tribune, in the 1960s there were 13,000 Catholic schools serving 5.3 million students in America. By the 1990s, the size had shrunk to 7,000 schools serving a mere two million students. This drop continued into the 2000s. The rate of enrollment decline has been more than 2.5 percent.
It looks like a more systematic outreach from the Catholic Church, a general awareness that public schools are not proving the best quality of education and the voucher programs are changing this decreasing dynamic.
Vouchers are currently available in 10 states, including Washington DC, and are favorable to Catholic schools because they are usually located in urban areas and are more affordable than private school. These voucher programs have seen great success, especially in Indiana, which boasts the largest voucher program in the country. The Indiana Department of Education recorded that over 2,400 students transferred from public schools to private schools since the program was created in 2011. Additionally, another 1,500 students used vouchers to transfer to other religious schools. Consequently, in the five dioceses in Indiana, there are now 2.1 more catholic students that last school year, according to Wall Street Journal report and the Dioceses.
According to the authors, "Catholic schools are showing signs of growth even in cities without vouchers. But they are benefiting disproportionately from the rise of vouchers and tax credit programs that provide tax relief to individuals or businesses that donate to scholarships for low-income students."
The University of Notre Dame is the base of operations for a major Catholic school initiative, the Catholic School Advantage campaign. The program has already launched partnerships with dioceses out to areas with large Hispanic communities, such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Antonio, and is also engaging the privates sector.
In cities where vouchers are not available, donors like The Catholic Education Foundation, The Extra Mile Education Foundation, The Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, and The Consortium of Catholic Academies help support the Catholic school mission. The organizations encourage enrollment by providing scholarships and support to low-income and minority students who would benefit from a Catholic education. Through partnerships with local civic and business communities, initiatives such as these may yet succeed in expanding access to Catholic education both among Hispanics as well as the general population.