Parishioners across Arkansas will have the opportunity to directly impact the future of the Diocese of Little Rock by aiding Catholic schools.
The ninth annual Catholic Schools Scholarship Appeal kicks off Nov. 12-13 to assist schools in raising funds for need-based tuition assistance to help families who could not otherwise afford to offer a Catholic education to their children.
“Today our Catholic schools face financial challenges, which include decreases in parish subsidies, increased need for fundraising and a greater need for financial assistance for families negatively affected by the economy. This last challenge is where you can help,” Bishop Anthony B. Taylor explained in a letter to parishes that will be read at Masses.
“Catholic schools are an integral part of the teaching mission of the Church because they assist parents in the important obligation of educating and forming their children through faith development. They provide a rigorous education, rooted in the Gospel, and rich in the cherished traditions and liturgical practices of our faith.”
While parishes subsidize their schools and fundraising efforts and endowments provide financial assistance, those funds, combined with tuition payments, do not cover the true cost of Catholic education, especially where costs have gone up while incomes have not kept pace, associate superintendent Marguerite Olberts said.
“Tuition rates in Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Arkansas are significantly less than the actual cost of educating students in our Catholic schools,” she said.
According to the Office of Catholic Schools, the average tuition rate for a child in elementary school is $4,147 for a Catholic student and $5,734 for a non-Catholic child, but the average annual cost of educating one student in elementary school is $6,532. That’s a difference of $2,385 for Catholic students and $798 for non-Catholic students.
The average tuition rate for Catholic high schools is $6,498 for Catholic students and $7,475 for non-Catholics, but the average annual cost of educating a student in one of the state’s Catholic high schools is $9,864 — a difference of $3,366 for Catholics and $2,389 for non-Catholics.
“Generally, every child in a Catholic school is getting some assistance because they're not charging what they could,” Olberts said. “If you're a Catholic family at a Catholic school, you're generally getting even more of a discount.”
Even without charging the full cost of educating a child, tuition remains a challenge to hundreds of families who desire a Catholic education for their children. This year, Olberts said, the combined gap between what diocesan schools charge and their actual cost to educate is $496,736.
By giving to the Catholic Schools Scholarship Appeal donors can help Arkansas’ Catholic schools hire and retain the best teachers and offer state-of-the-art programs and infrastructure to best prepare students for the future, she said.
The Catholic Schools Scholarship Appeal was created in 2013 to help provide financial assistance to families who qualify.
Last year, tuition support was provided to 86 students ranging from $400 to $3,000 a student. The Office of Catholic Schools contracts with FACTS Management Company, a third-party provider, to review financial aid applications and determine if a family qualifies for tuition assistance. Olberts said every student is required to pay partial tuition.
“Our philosophy is every family pays something; everybody does their share,” Olberts said. “FACTS assesses what each family can pay.”
Olberts, who served as principal for a decade at St. Teresa School in Little Rock in what she described as a “lower socio-economic part Little Rock,” said her students had a lot of demand for scholarships, and it was always gratifying to see families in need get support, especially with a long-term investment like education.
“I ran into one of my former students, whose family needed financial aid, the other day at church, and she's now in college,” Olberts said. “She's the first in her family to ever attend college. And she wouldn't necessarily have that bright future if she hadn't had the opportunity to be in a Catholic school. I really believe that.
“For families who desire a Catholic environment that is going to combine spirituality and education it just gets to be a hardship for some families to pay the full tuition,” she said. “Having that opportunity (to receive financial aid) has made a big difference for a lot of children. It is a beautiful thing to be a part of to see those children have opportunities that their family so desperately wanted.”
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