In Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools Enrollment Grows
Now Richmond, 56, a former Chicago public school administrator who led the development of charter schools in the city before stepping up its expansion nationally, faces the daunting task of capitalizing on this growth. year. It will need to find creative new sources of scholarship funding to meet the unmet demand of thousands of students who want to attend Catholic schools but cannot afford tuition. Stabilizing listings could potentially improve the institution’s credit rating, which was downgraded by Moody’s Investors Service in December to Ba1 junk status – its lowest point to date – with $ 170 million outstanding. of debt. Over the past five years, the archdiocese has provided $ 107 million to struggling schools, according to the organization.
Economic challenges are looming on the horizon. At least a dozen Catholic schools have closed since 2017 due to low enrollment rates and financial difficulties. With more and more dioceses nationwide seeking bankruptcy protections due to rising litigation costs for allegations of sexual abuse and COVID-19 loopholes, the question is whether the Archdiocese of Chicago will follow suit remains an open question.
Richmond, however, prefers to focus on what it can control more easily: the quality of education offered by its schools.
Richmond has laid out several avenues for increasing enrollment, which he says is one of his goals, and many reflect the fundamentals of choosing the school he has built as a champion career. One is to differentiate curricula between schools, so families have more options. This could involve setting up additional International Baccalaureate programs in elementary schools – there is only one so far – as well as providing specialist guidance such as vocational technical training or the arts. of the spectacle, like a model of a magnetic school.
“Parents are looking for programs that match the interests and needs of their children,” said Richmond. “I think we need to be positioned to meet those interests. “
Another key area for improvement is affordability. In 2019, average tuition fees in Catholic elementary schools were $ 4,903 per year and high schools $ 10,864, a 40% increase over the past decade that puts the option out of reach for many. many families.
Richmond said about 16,000 students had applied for tuition assistance under the state’s Invest In Kids scholarship tax credit program, but there was no that sufficient funds for 3,000 scholarships. The program, which grants a 75% income tax credit to individuals and businesses that make donations that are used as scholarships in private schools, is far from a permanent or reliable solution. It depends on legislative approval, is set to expire automatically in 2024, and only narrowly survived a review of Governor JB Pritzker’s budget proposal this summer that would have spent more money on public education.
Richmond said he would ask lawmakers to renew the program and suggest other ways to strengthen it.
“Right now it’s a 75% tax credit, which is great, and we appreciate it; but if it was a 100% tax credit, it would immediately increase our scholarships available to children, ”he said. “This program is not just for Catholic schools… Families are better off, children are better off, the state is better off if we have a healthy and diverse education system.
Moody’s will also monitor listing fees. While litigation risks and the Illinois Attorney General’s ongoing investigation into clergy abuse are the most closely watched determinants, Moody’s is also looking at schools to assess how much the Archdiocese should spend to help them.
In its most recent credit opinion in June, Moody’s kept the Ba1 rating stable, noting that the Archdiocese had just over $ 1 billion in cash and investment, a sound strategy for realigning resources. financial through its “Renew My Church” initiative and real profit investment. real estate that could generate more income if sold. He also said schools were performing “better than expected” after enrollment took a hit at the start of the pandemic.
“There has been pressure on private school enrollment everywhere – parish schools in particular – so if this continues and there is an annual deficit in schools, the Catholic Bishop of Chicago will step in and help,” said Michael Osborn, vice president and senior analyst. at Moody’s. “Stronger revenue growth in schools takes less away from the Catholic Bishop of Chicago and they don’t have to give schools as much.”
Archdiocesan officials say most schools are unprofitable and are funded by their parishes.
“We don’t have income figures for schools because they are not income producing. Our schools are a ministry and many are supported by the archdiocese and donor funds as they are not self-funded, ”a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. She said about 44% of schools receive help from the archdiocese to cover operations and 73% receive help for scholarships.
Despite this support, most schools’ budgets are maintained at the local level, said Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, who served as superintendent from 2008 to 2015. Cutting memberships and fundraising has exacerbated the financial challenges, making them more dependent on schools. tuition fee income.
McCaughey, who now works on training parish principals at DePaul University, said she often offered this advice to principals: “Get in the dark, because the Ark won’t be able to help you. “
“The diocese is going to support it through scholarship funds and things like that, but they won’t be able to subsidize because the parishes are no longer able to subsidize,” she said. “Even when I was superintendent, less than half of the parishes donated anything to their Catholic schools.