The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Catholic scholarship appeal closing aid gap

Appeal addresses outstanding need, LEARNS Act impact

Published: November 14, 2023   
Courtesy Rebecca Steimel
First graders at St. Paul School in Pocahontas show off their collection of items found outside for their nature collection in October.

The Diocese of Little Rock’s Catholic Schools Office is launching its 10th annual Catholic Schools Scholarship Appeal Nov. 11, addressing financial changes brought by the passage of the LEARNS Act and outstanding financial need. 

The scholarship appeal aims to assist schools statewide by raising funds for needs-based tuition assistance. The appeal includes informational flyers to include in parish bulletins, a letter from Bishop Anthony B. Taylor read at Masses and donation envelopes available at all Masses. Additionally, letters will be mailed to past donors. 

“The appeal officially starts the weekend of Nov. 11-12, when it is announced at the weekend Masses,” said Marguerite Olberts, associate superintendent for Catholic schools. “The appeal window is from Nov. 11-Jan. 1. However, some people choose to give monthly throughout the year, and we also accept checks throughout the year. People can give to the scholarship fund at any time.”

The Catholic Schools Office said donations totaling $71,727 in 2022 were able to support 75 students, with assistance ranging from $500 to $2,700 per student. 

The value of a Catholic education is emphasized in the bishop’s letter. 

“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,” the letter reads. “They provide a rigorous education, rooted in the Gospel and rich in the cherished traditions and liturgical practices of our faith. Our schools provide students with the foundation to live a moral and upright life to face the challenges brought by changes in the world today.”

The letter also explained the impact Educational Freedom Accounts (EFAs), part of the LEARNS Act, have on Catholic school tuition.

“The LEARNS Act is a new development in our state, which provides funding for tuition and some fees through an Education Freedom Account for students who meet the criteria to qualify,” the letter stated. “The majority of students who are in need of scholarships to Catholic schools do not qualify for an Education Freedom Account. The need for financial assistance remains an obstacle for many families.”

Olberts said the greatest challenge in this year’s scholarship appeal is navigating a poor economy and fighting misinformation regarding the impact of EFAs on tuition rates.

“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,” according to the letter. “This last challenge is where you can help. 

According to the Catholic Schools Office, the difference between the amount of financial aid requested from parents and what schools are able to offer is $173,113. The Catholic Schools Scholarship Appeal will be used to close the gap.

“Although we do have families benefiting from the EFAs, we still have many families who need assistance and do not qualify for an EFA at this time,” Olberts said.

All funds raised from the appeal go directly to Arkansas Catholic schools to provide tuition assistance for a family with demonstrated financial need. A third party service, FACTS Management Company, reviews applications and determines if a family qualifies for tuition assistance. 

The Catholic schools scholarship appeal was created in 2013 to help qualified families close the financial gap in tuition with financial assistance. 

“100 percent of all donations go directly to provide a scholarship to a student with a demonstrated financial need,” Olberts said. “All costs associated with mailing the letters are covered by the diocese.”

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