Author Archives: NCEATALK

Writing Lessons Anchored in Human Dignity

The following blog was contributed by John Brahier, a high school theology teacher at Divine Child High School in Dearborn, Michigan.

During my second year of teaching, I had a very unique schedule. After my second-hour precalculus class, my sophomore theology students walked into the room for Church history. Given the sharp difference between the two classes and my personal interest in mathematician-theologians like René Descartes and Blaise Pascal, I began asking how I could make my math classroom a place for students to encounter the faith. Certainly, this is the ideal. A math, or any class in a Catholic school, ought to have a distinctive character, a formative dimension that transcends the intellectual component of education.

Simple steps came to mind as I pondered my question. Live as a faith witness.1 Start class with prayer. Display a faith-related poster.

But what about my class content? Could I bring students to a genuine encounter of the Catholic faith through math instruction?

Like many teachers, my lessons typically revolved around an anchor problem or question. This,  to me, was the opportunity to authentically integrate the faith into my class such that it did not appear to students as an awkward tack-on. For example, my lessons on exponential and logarithmic functions provided the right mathematical lens for students to dive deeper into China’s one-child policy. After studying the one-child policy and its origins, I developed an anchor problem for this unit that required students to apply their understanding of exponential and logarithmic functions while also considering the ethical dimension informed by Church teaching. This allowed me to develop students’ abilities to view a situation (like the one-child policy) from multiple perspectives, the mathematical and the ethical.

Anchoring a lesson in a human dignity issue is a natural way to authentically present students with a situation that requires multiple levels of analysis. Developing anchor problems like this requires considering the range of human dignity issues from abortion to immigration to poverty,  careful study and research, conversation with colleagues and consultation of existing resources.2 With an anchor problem in mind, attention must also be paid to the integration of relevant Church teaching. Being intentional about properly framing questions and clearly presenting Church teaching requires significant attention and, in some cases, scriptwriting to ensure that the material is accessible for teachers and students alike.

This might sound like a time-consuming and challenging process. It is! However, it is rewarding both for the designer (especially when done in collaboration with colleagues) and the students. Most importantly, this type of encounter is why Catholic schools exist.

While not all teachers have the time or necessary support and resources to create such lessons, the McGrath Institute of Church Life at the University of Notre Dame is taking the lead in creating resources and making them freely available for any teacher to use. They are also reaching out to the community of teachers already deeply invested in this approach. Through the Teaching Human Dignity Resource Contest, winning teachers can work with the McGrath Institute to have their materials incorporated into the Teaching Human Dignity series and made available to teachers worldwide. The unit Exploring China’s One-Child Policy with Exponential and Logarithmic Functions will be made available this semester for any interested teacher.

The task of a Catholic school “is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge  through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues  characteristic of the Christian.”3 Our job is not simply to produce mathematicians, doctors, and lawyers. No, it’s to form students as saints (who are mathematicians, doctors, lawyers, etc). This goal cannot be accomplished with only one department interested in students’ spiritual development. Rather, it takes a community of teacher-ministers united in a commitment to developing students’ minds and hearts through teaching anchored in faith encounters.

2The Teaching Human Dignity series from the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame offers an ever-expanding set of rich resources with this aim in mind.

About the Author

John has taught high school math and theology and enjoys exploring opportunities for the faith to be infused throughout the high school experience. He is married to Annie and has a one-year-old son named Stephen.

Cross-disciplinary Teaching Resources Promote an Integral Vision of Life and Human Dignity

The following blog was contributed by Jessica Keating, the Director of the Notre Dame Office of Life and Human Dignity within the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

For over 2000 years, the Catholic Church has proclaimed that every human person has inherent dignity and inestimable worth. Though one of the greatest gifts handed down to cultures and societies across history, this proclamation is perhaps the most audacious the Church announces in the modern world. Amidst the violence and chaos of the world, the Church consistently calls on each one of us to recognize and act in accordance with the dignity of each and every human being, from conception to natural death. Catholic school educators, regardless of the subject they teach, have a responsibility to inculcate this fundamental belief in their students.

There are two important dimensions required for a student to respond to this call: knowledge and will. A student must know that the dignity of a human person is due to his or her having both an origin and end in God. It also requires the formation of a person’s will (in Latin, voluntas) or a desire to act in accord with this understanding. Although the family is the first place where children learn about the sanctity of life, this education and formation necessarily, extends to the school. In Evangelium Vitae, St. John Paul II urges educators to fearlessly take up the work of promoting human dignity (cf. §88). This educational mandate is not simply the provenance of theology alone, but must be taken up by the entire school faculty and integrated across the academic disciplines.

In order to support Catholic educators in this vital work, Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame has collaborated with teachers, educational design experts, and content area experts to support this important work. Its Teaching Human Dignity series is a free, online collection of resources (e.g., units, lesson plans, videos, etc.) that promote the culture of life through education. It addresses life and human dignity issues as they organically occur within the secondary education curriculum. The philosophy guiding this initiative is simple: authentic, meaningful learning occurs when students have the opportunity to discover truth themselves. In other words, it is not enough to directly teach students that every human being possesses incomparable worth. Rather, the students must make sense of this themselves by engaging the complex concept of human dignity as it surfaces while studying social studies, science, language arts, and the other content areas. Doing so equips students with a deep appreciation and love for what the Church teaches as well as its implications for their own lives and the human family. In this way, students fully grasp the truth of human dignity at the level of understanding and will.

The task of teaching human dignity in the classroom may feel daunting–even more so if one’s disciplinary expertise is not in theology; and yet, as St. John Paul II reminds us it is the responsibility of educators to create the conditions for students to grow in knowledge, desire, and love of the good. The resources in the Teaching Human Dignity series, freely available online, are designed to support the essential work of Catholic school teachers. They provide the creative, professionally designed materials that will allow them to present a life-affirming message in the classroom.

About the Author

Jessica Keating directs the Notre Dame Office of Life and Human Dignity in the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. In her role, she leads the Institute’s research, education, and outreach efforts on the nature and dignity of the human person and contemporary threats to the sanctity of life.

Catholic School Enrollment and School Closures, Post-COVID-19

The following blog was contributed by Matthew Cordes, associate director of schools, Office for Schools, Diocese of San Diego.

Reviewing the Catholic School Enrollment and School Closure, Post COVID-19 report left me feeling connected to the rest of our nation’s Catholic schools. The Diocese of San Diego was a microcosm of the national report. Our declines in enrollment for elementary and early education were almost identical to the national report. Our high schools saw a small increase in enrollment but nothing too far from the rest of the nation. More of our schools had waitlists in at least one grade because of COVID spacing restrictions. While we haven’t had to close a low-income school because of COVID, the amount that our schools could spend on safety equipment, training and technology varied greatly depending on the ZIP code.

The questions that I was left asking seemed very similar to questions that we were asking a year ago when we looked at our enrollment reports. With access, equity and sustainability at the top of the list, it seems like the pandemic was more of an accelerator than a speed bump. With the exception of the preschool enrollment dip, which I believe will self-correct in time, our issues seemed to manifest themselves faster this year. However, the pandemic did teach our schools the skills of creativity, grit and adaptability. Principals became epidemiologists and our teachers are now Zoom masters. Classrooms have new ventilation standards and students can collaborate while sitting six feet apart. Just like my kindergartener figured out how to be dropped off instead of being walked into the classroom, our schools are now better able to meet any challenge that comes at it (including making sure my kindergartener gets to his classroom).

Now comes the big challenge. As a body of educators across the nation, can we use our newly acquired skills to come up with more creative solutions to meet the underlying issues facing Catholic education? Once we can remove our masks, let’s use our experience to reassess how we use staffing in our schools. Not as a way to lower a ratio, instead as a way that creates the optimal academic benefit for students such as developing new educational models. Let’s collaborate as a staff on the areas of growth for our school and brainstorm creative ideas to meet the needs of every student. We need to adapt our system to figure out new marketing strategies to attract students that have never thought of Catholic education before the pandemic. Finally, we need the grit to evaluate our institutions to see where we have let down our community with access and equity. These tasks will not be easy, but they can’t be much harder than keeping the gospel message alive during a pandemic! So, let us all go face the current reality of Catholic schools with the knowledge of our newfound skills. While reflecting on our topic, the words of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat came to mind, “Shouldn’t we gratefully accept both good and bad as coming from the hand of God, for both are inclined to our advantage if we know how to profit from them.” At this moment in Catholic education, we have accepted both the good and the bad, now we must use our newfound blessing to profit our ministry.

The Serious Work for Catholic Schools Begins Now

The following blog was contributed by John James, Ed.D., professor of educational leadership at St. Louis University School of Education.

Catholic schools stand as an exemplar and a contradiction. They serve as a powerful creator of social capital, a point of engagement with families for the Church and a powerful disciple-making tool; but operate within a complex market economy dominated by a loss of social cohesion and a consumeristic culture. They serve a critical apostolic mission of the Church and spiritual work of mercy, but must close schools for the most vulnerable and for those who might benefit the most. Catholic school closures in 2019-2020 disproportionately impacted underserved families and non-Catholic families. Black families, Title I students, urban communities and non-Catholics were overrepresented in the demographic sample of closed Catholic schools. The decline of 6.4 percent was driven by a 26.6 percent decline in pre-kindergarten enrollment. Maybe it’s parents working from home, taking a shot at home-schooling, and they will return post-COVID; maybe they won’t. This is no time for complacency. There is serious work to be done!

So why did high schools fare better and are there any lessons regarding governance, administration and finance? Possibly. The median elementary school enrollment in 2019 was 215, compared with 510 for secondary schools; larger schools afford greater efficiencies of scale. Parish investment as a percentage of the school operational budget has remained relatively static in the 9-12 percent range over the last ten years. Secondary school advancement as a percentage of the school operational budget increased from 7.3 percent in 1988 to 13.9 percent in 2018. What is the impact on tuition? Between 2006 and 2019, the average tuition as a percentage of the cost to educate a student increased from 61.1 percent to 75.3 percent in elementary schools, and decreased from 81.5 percent to 73.3 percent in secondary schools.

The disparate impact on urban centers, underserved populations and elementary schools is a logical consequence of a fee-for-service model without much equalization aid. Certainly, many archdioceses have generous tuition-aid programs such as the Today and Tomorrow Foundation here in Saint Louis. However, application of distributive justice to support and sustain Catholic schools is a mixed bag. In 2004, only 33 percent of dioceses had policies and guidelines regarding financial support from non-school parishes that have parishioners attending a neighboring Catholic school; in 2009 that percentage had risen to 48 percent. In 2004 only 14.4 percent of dioceses had policies that required financial support for Catholic schools from all parishes, regardless of whether they have a school or not; in 2009 that percentage had risen to only 28.7 percent.  It’s difficult to argue for distributive justice in the public square when we don’t practice it ourselves.

This leads to the last area for serious reflection: mobilizing parents to demand true educational freedom. Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue (2020), following Arizona v. Winn (2011) has opened the door for the aggressive consideration of tax-credit student tuition organizations that present opportunities for the poor to attend Catholic schools. This is a watershed moment for every Catholic school board to have a “legislative whip” connected upwards to the diocesan office and to the State Catholic Conference, and downwards to the “class captains” for each grade. It’s one thing to hear of some rumblings about some tax-credit thing going on in an education committee at the state legislature; it’s another thing entirely when the State Catholic Conference puts out a call to its “legislative whips,” who send the message to “class captains” for each grade, and individual parents get a personal email from a parent they know who calls on them to rally for their rights as parents.  Australia had its Goulburn moment in 1962 that led to financial support for its Catholic schools. It’s time for ours!

A Look at Catholic School Data

The following blog was contributed by Dale McDonald, PBVM, Ph.D., NCEA Director of Public Policy and Educational Research.

Not another survey! I often hear that from busy Catholic school educators to whom surveys and other appeals for information seem ever-present. Requests to complete surveys often require several follow-up pleading reminders to those being asked for their participation. Yet, without comprehensive, reliable, longitudinal data sets, effective planning is not possible.

Comprehensive, current and complete data are needed to provide an understanding of Catholic education as an important sector of American education, to inform the public discussion of educational policy issues and to encourage and improve practice at the school level.

Since 1970, the National Catholic Educational Association has been tasked with obtaining and managing the collection of Catholic school data. Annually NCEA publishes a report on Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the United States. The data analyzed and presented are based on census data collected by each Catholic arch/diocesan school education on behalf of NCEA. The diocesan superintendents have been important collaborators with NCEA in assuring that all schools report information that is current and accurate.

This annual statistical report presents an overview of the historical dimensions of Catholic education and the context of American education in which Catholic schools operate. Also included are Catholic school enrollment and staffing demographic data that highlight school, student and staffing characteristics, tuition and special services provided to students in Catholic schools. Available longitudinal data that track changes over time, both nationally and regionally, enables dioceses and schools to compare their particular schools with others similarly situated as they assess their viability and engage in strategic planning for the future.

Another NCEA publication is the Annual Financial Report. This is based on surveys of Catholic schools conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University. While not all schools choose to participate, this summary report highlights some of the national, regional and specific school-type data about schools’ finances, governance, administrative structures, tuition, financial aid and other relevant fiscal issues. The data provide diocesan and local school leaders with relevant information needed to understand and appreciate the many aspects of school finance that are a prerequisite for planning and good stewardship. 

In addition, this information presents a clear picture of the financial contributions and sacrifices that Catholic school parents, teachers, parishes and dioceses make to educate children. Catholic education is a significant contribution to the common good of the nation, not only in the morally educated citizens it produces, but also in the substantial taxpayer savings of more than 20 billion dollars annually.

Busy school administrators know the importance of having and using data in managing school finances, effective instruction, student learning outcomes and long-term viability and are grateful to have it provided in a format that is readily accessible. But to have good data, all need to help provide it. As the lottery ads used to say, “You have to be in it to win it!” Catholic school leaders, please think twice about what your data can contribute before you hit the delete key!

Our Obligation Is Today

The following blog was contributed by John Reyes, Ed.D., executive director of operational vitality at the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

Yesterday, we released a data brief highlighting some of the most important findings of our annual research on school enrollment and staffing in Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the United States. Since the 1970s, NCEA has collected and published this data, United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools 2020 – 2021, on an annual basis for the benefit of advancing awareness and advocacy for Catholic schools.

Make no mistake about it – these are difficult and challenging findings that demand collective soul-searching and critical reflection. However you choose to dress it, the generational impact of the pandemic on Catholic schools ought to compel us to reflect and act from the deepest convictions we hold about the work we do in Catholic schools.

Most importantly, in the words of Flannery O’Connor, we ought to remember that “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

It is NCEA’s deepest conviction that the work we did over the last several months and for decades will be transformative. We know that it will be instrumental to a greater awareness and ownership of the challenges, vulnerabilities and opportunities that lie ahead of us.

In the coming days, expect to hear more voices from the field as to how we ought to galvanize ourselves and each other in the ever-present calling to educate young people and their families in the beauty, truth and goodness of Jesus Christ, regardless of the circumstance.

We at NCEA know the passion and dedication that makes Catholic schools possible. We have been teachers, principals, coaches, colleagues, superintendents, parents and supporters of Catholic schools, and it is from that deep well of experience and response to crisis that we recognize our obligation. Our responsibility is not merely to comfort; it is to empower.

We must acknowledge the facts, while remaining hopeful and focused on finding solutions to the challenges we face.

Our obligation to our students and their families is renewed today.

Introducing ShopWithScrip Gift Card Fundraising

The following blog was contributed by ShopWithScrip, the largest gift card fundraising platform in the United States, supporting Catholic schools and other organizations to raise money to use where it’s needed the most—whether it be family tuition credit, classroom enhancements, class trips, operating funds, scholarship needs, or more.

A safer and easier way for your school to fundraise—whether class is in person or virtual. 

2020 was a tough year for fundraising. Not being able to gather or interact has severely hindered traditional fundraising methods. It’s a year that has put school tuition credit and other educational initiatives at risk, for schools like yours all across the country. So, how can your school’s families raise much-needed funds in a new way?

The answer is simple: ShopWithScrip gift card fundraising. With gift card fundraising your school’s families raise money for the initiatives you put in place, simply by purchasing gift cards for their everyday purchases or grabbing holiday gifts for everyone on their shopping list. Imagine fundraising that can be done anytime, anywhere with little effort.

With gift card fundraising, there is no door knocking, no selling and no extra time or money spent.

Instead, your families purchase gift cards at face value from more than 750 popular brands. Then, the store donates a percentage of each gift card purchased to support Catholic education. The store gets the sales, your families get the full value of the gift card to go shopping with, and your school raises money to use where you need it most—whether it be family tuition credit, classroom enhancements, class trips, operating funds, scholarship needs, or more.

Catholic schools and other private schools across the country have been using ShopWithScrip for over 25 years to support their school’s mission. See what one Catholic mom had to say about the impact gift card fundraising has had on her family:

“Gift card fundraising has been such a blessing to our family! We began using this program right after our first son was born. We rolled over our earnings until our second son was in first grade and we were almost able to pay for his tuition in full that year. Each year, we were amazed at how the earnings added up and gave us financial relief. We have faithfully used gift cards for our weekly groceries, gas, Christmas gifts and restaurants through the years. A true blessing by helping families use their purchasing power for tuition relief.” – Suzanne J. (mom who earned for her kids’ education)

As you can see, it’s quite easy for families to purchase gift cards that fuel their fundraising for a stronger Catholic education. And they can choose to purchase those gift cards from the safety of their home or while they’re on the go.

Thanks to the new RaiseRight app by ShopWithScrip, families can easily purchase gift cards right from their mobile phone—including hundreds of eGift card options that are available to use within minutes. Plus, for added convenience, families now have the option to have gift cards, from hundreds of different brands, shipped right to their door. It’s so convenient and requires no coordination by school administrators.

It’s simply the right way to fundraise. Once you try it, you’ll see for yourself the endless earning potential.

To learn more about how to start your free program visit



Years of Choice and Grace

The following blog was contributed by Sr. Mary Paul McCaughey, coordinator of DePaul University Catholic Educational Leadership Programs and author of the new book, Grace and Guts for School Leaders: Practical Prayers.

At 72 years old and almost 54 years after entering the convent, I am still clueless about my vocation. This is an honest clueless which I hope is not disappointing to those wishing something profound – and I trust that is okay with God. My vocation is simply a grace and a choice.

At 17, existential angst was the order of the day. Like Sartre in Nausea, even my death would have been “in the way.” Laughable now having lived a while, but desperately sincere at the time, my choice of God – and, in retrospect, the imperative of giving my young life completely in service as validating the belief in a living God – meant taking the leap and joining the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois. If this came as a cause for laughter for some (my best friend’s mom hiccupped herself off the sofa), it was not a huge shock to my boyfriend or my dad, both of whom knew I had to try it…and told me that I would always be welcomed home.

From there, it was Merton, scripture and secular and spiritual writers to feed an immature but willing soul. Blessed in role models within the community, learning to be professional and trying to be kind was the order of the day for young adulthood as it still is for me today. The winds of Vatican II had blown through the windows but saying “yes” to needs of the community remained a constant, a curb still for a rather independent spirit trained as a waitress (everyone should be) and willing to meet new people while passing the hors d’oeuvres.

Since being sent to teach fifth-graders at age 20 (bless their very dear and patient hearts, soon to be facing retirement), it was off to seventh graders (endurance), then high schoolers at all levels and ministry itself became grace and formation. Born in the daily work, there is innate gratitude for the rhythms of ministry, the seasons of the heart of serving kids in the now and for the future. As a teacher now at the graduate level, this very direct call to individual and communal transformation remains powerful. I may not remember every name, but even neuroscience tells me that every moment is indelible in my brain.

A bit of Holy Spirit (thank you, my Dear!) works outside of the classroom too. While I always wanted to be a counselor, I was to spend 30 years in administration as a high school president and principal then superintendent of schools, trying desperately to see God in the cracks of life, the face of Jesus in working to steer systems. It is a part of a single fabric – serve as called, as you can. These years brought me deep pain, not in doubting my call to religious life, but in not being able to do enough or even very well.  Out of this well of experience has come a sense that we simply do our best in all arenas and then trust God for the work. There are a million things I would have done differently, but I was not that person then and I simply need to ask forgiveness and lean into integrity again.

Life has been as St. Bridget of Kildare wrote, “a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.” Seriously. A lake. Beer. Years of choice and grace have been an opportunity to live and serve and love all in my path. The love was sometimes angry, always imperfect, but still real. Because I lived, gifted with family, community, co-workers, my friends, students and the breath of God, I have drunk deeply of the lake. If drinking up has left me clueless, it has also provided me with thousands of songs from the bar….and a true (if sometimes tipsy) joy.

Why Have I Chosen Catholic Education As A Vocation?

The following blog was contributed by Kathy Sells, 8th grade homeroom teacher at Holy Family Catholic School in the diocese of Boise.

I chose Catholic education as a vocation because I knew I would not have to be in it alone. I knew I would be working with parents, the primary educators, students, coworkers, administrators and priests; not in typical working relationships, but rather as a covenant relationship; a way of life that pervades every minute, of every hour, of every day. I would be working with people who see Catholicism as a lifestyle, not a moment in time.

I chose Catholic education as my vocation because I believe it to be my best response to God’s invitation to a deeper intimacy with Him. He must increase while I decrease.  Middle school students can see through a phony a mile away. If my faith is not rooted in intimacy with God, I am simply a noisy gong, whether I am teaching religion or math. My students help me to deepen my intimacy with the first teacher, Jesus.

I chose Catholic education as my vocation because I believe it is a beautiful expression of the promises that were made in Baptism through my anointing as priest, prophet and king.  As priests, teachers, students and parents we are called to proclaim the word of God in our words, thoughts and actions. As prophet, teachers, students, and parents are called to stand up in times of injustice to help right the wrongs. And as king, teachers, students and parents are called to servant leadership. We all have a part to play, there is no abdication of our roles.

I chose Catholic education as my vocation because I believe what it says in Ecclesiastes, “Where one alone may be overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). If one part of the team: parent, student or school is unable to do their part or chooses to not participate, we are less than successful. Being a math teacher, the numbers speak for themselves. If parents, students and the school all participate that is 100%. I am not saying it is perfect, but we all stand a better chance at success when we work together. If one party does not buy into the mission of Catholic education, we have a success rate of 66 ⅔ percent. That is a significant hit.

I chose Catholic education as my vocation because I believe the relationship between school, parent and student is a beautiful expression of the doctrine of the Trinity: the Lover, the Loved, and the Love between them. Parents are the primary educators of their children and Catholic schools walk with parents to encourage the students to be who God created them to be. These relationships formed with families are ones of humility, sacrifice and love.

So, I chose Catholic education as my vocation because I know I cannot make it to heaven on my own, and Catholic education involves all parties being called by the One to a common goal, eternal life.

“To be saints is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.” ~ Pope Francis

Celebrating Our Nation and School Choice

The following blog was contributed by Margaret Kaplow, director for marketing communications and manager, public relations for the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA).

Catholic Schools Week, January 31 – February 6, is the national celebration of Catholic school education and the theme for February 3 is Celebrating Our Nation. Students, educators and families can communicate the value of Catholic school education to government leaders and pray for the nation and recognize all those who serve our country.

Catholic Schools Week is an opportunity for Catholic schools to showcase their best attributes, increase enrollment and tell their school’s story. In a non-pandemic year, the weeklong celebration includes Masses, teacher-student basketball games, open houses for new and prospective families, coffee hours with local business leaders, no-uniform days, community service and much more. Adhering to CDC health guidelines, this year looks a little different with virtual open houses, livestreamed Masses, friendly competitions held with six feet of distance between competitors. Still, Catholic education is to be celebrated. Academic excellence, character formation and the evangelizing mission of Catholic education draws families to Catholic schools, but for many it means sacrifice. 

For more than two centuries, Catholic bishops, pastors and parents have educated children in parish and private schools with the intention of offering the life-giving Word of the Gospel in an environment that shows respect for the human person, the virtues of good citizenship and academic excellence. This effort has been done without aid or subsidies from state or federal monies but largely through the tenacious efforts of parents, pastors and grass roots fundraising. Based on public school per pupil cost, Catholic schools save the nation more than $22 billion a year. In addition to a national savings, 99 percent of Catholic school seniors graduate each year; 84 percent of those students go on to graduate from college. The success of Catholic schools is one of the Catholic Church’s best stories in the United States.

The challenging reality is that tuition costs remain a major obstacle for parents who want to choose their children’s school. Many Catholic schools offer tuition subsidies and scholarships, thanks to the generosity of dioceses, parishes and private philanthropy, but these cannot serve all families and are tenuously sustainable. Fortunately, parent or school choice policies offer an opportunity to families who are unable to “choose” by changing their zip codes.

Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia offer 65 publicly financed programs  (vouchers, scholarship tax credits and educational savings account programs) that help parents choose a private or faith-based education for their children. The Catholic education community’s commitment to empowering families’ decision-making with school choice and the incredible witness our schools provide means we cannot be silent in this debate. In fact, school choice is one of the issues NCEA supports when working with other Catholic organizations such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Council for American Private Education (CAPE) and Catholic Education Partners (CEP) when advocating to Congress for Catholic school education.

During this Catholic Schools Week, all supporters of Catholic school education are invited to get involved by learning more about school choice and by checking the American Federation for Children interactive map for a state-by-state list of which states have some form of school choice programs. If your state does not have any programs to support school choice, you can use a congressional list categorized by state to contact legislators to make your voice known about school choice.

The Vatican Council in 1965 stated, “Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.” For that choice to be meaningful, public funds for education should follow each child to the school that parents choose. It is important to emphasize that empowering families to direct their children’s education will not undermine communities or diminish local school districts; instead, choice levels the playing field and strengthens local bonds as we all work together to improve education.