TONTITOWN — A $3 million gift to assist northwest Arkansas families to send their children to attend Ozark Catholic Academy came as welcome news.
For some families, a Catholic high school education seems out of reach, but the introduction of the Continuing Catholic Education (CCE) tuition rate program has made the option more affordable, even for multiple children.
The $3 million donation was given in February with the intention of easing the financial burden that many families feel when making the choice between attending tuition-free public or charter schools or attending a private school with tuition.
Ozark Catholic Academy, an independent Catholic high school, is located in the education center at St. Joseph Church in Tontitown. Since opening in 2018, the school has increased enrollment each year and will add a 12th grade in the fall for the first time. When the doors open in August, the school will welcome its largest freshman class to date.
The donation, established by an anonymous family, will be distributed over a 15-year period to offer tuition assistance to families who have committed to Catholic education. Students who graduated from Catholic elementary schools are eligible for a 50-percent reduction in their tuition all four years of high school beginning this fall. Current OCA students also qualify for this new tuition tier under these same guidelines.
According to Robbie Estes, who serves as a liaison to the donor and a member of the OCA board of governors, a primary goal of the donor is continuance of Catholic education in the area.
“A $3 million gift is a strategic way to create a positive impact on multiple Catholic schools,” said Estes, father of a current OCA freshman. “The donor family wants to encourage students to continue to choose Catholic education beyond elementary school.”
Sara Goldschmidt, a mother of a current eighth grader, said, “The new CCE rate definitely helped us in making the decision to send Peyton to OCA. It was the difference in needing to request financial aid. Given what is happening in the economy right now, we would not be able to make this choice were it not for the CCE rate.”
With the economic downturn due to COVID-19, Kristin Kaemmerling-Dubbell echoed similar sentiments.
“Earlier in the year, our decision of where to send Ben to school hinged on several factors, not only finances, but now I’m really thankful because of the economic downfall,” she said.
Although not Catholic, Kaemmerling-Dubbell and her husband, Chris, made the decision to send Ben, who has attended St. Vincent de Paul from kindergarten through eighth grade, to OCA.
John Rocha, OCA head of school, said he is happy that more families can consider OCA if they are looking for academically challenging, faith-based education for their high school-age children.
“We have done a great job with that so far,” Rocha said. “But this generous gift, our largest to date, and the CCE tuition rate, will make attending OCA a reality for even more students.”
The annual tuition for one student to attend OCA is $9,750. Qualifying CCE student’s annual tuition rate would be reduced to $4,875. An additional educational fee will be assessed to cover technology needs and maintaining the school’s bus and two vans.
Rocha said OCA will still offer financial aid to those students needing financial help in addition to the CCE tuition program.
Ashley Menendez, mother of eighth grader Kate, who attends St. Joseph School in Fayetteville, said paying more than what they paid for pre-Kindergarten through eighth-grade is a sacrifice.
“This new tuition rate means that our children can continue their Catholic education in high school with a similar tuition fee at St. Joseph,” she said. “This makes the decision to commit to Catholic secondary education a much easier one and is a huge blessing for our family and many others.”
Rocha believes the CCE tuition rate will make enrolling in OCA a viable option.
“In terms of financial stability, and then in terms of rooting ourselves in Northwest Arkansas, the CCE gift along with the support and strength of Catholics in northwest Arkansas will help continue OCA’s success,” he said.
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