13 October 2010

Which Died First, the Chicken or the Egg?

"And, it was free."

That is a quote from the following story from STLToday that relates how a charter school leasing space from Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in Southwest St. Louis City is, ironically enough, gaining many new students from among those who dropped out of their Catholic parochial schools in order to enroll.

Archbishop Carlson has emphasized the need for vibrant Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese, and rightly so.  I have previously posted on that subject to agree with that proposition, and to agree with His Grace's point that in order for these to flourish, they must be authentically Catholic in curriculum and culture.

"And, it was free."-- this sentiment sums up the current challenge posed by the presence of the Gateway Science Academy on the grounds of Epiphany parish.  It boils down to this: if the only difference between the public school and the Catholic school is the cost, then of course the Catholic school will be less attractive to prospective students and their parents.

During the last twenty or so years, the Archdiocese, faced with the loss of Catholic identity in the city, in terms of numbers of Catholics who left and the lack of fervor of those Catholics who remained, has been consolidating and reorganizing students into fewer and fewer Catholic parish schools.  This hasn't been a Sherman-is-at-the-city-limits-of-Atlanta-type bugout; it is more like the gradual-withdrawal-of-French-and-US-forces-from-Vietnam-type inevitability.

Leaving aside particular causes for the closures-- and I think that one could make a decent argument for each and every closure from a purely bottom-line perspective-- the fact remains that when a parish loses a long-time school, it affects the parish in a negative way.  And this effect is deeply felt.

Epiphany could no longer support a parish school.  But there remained the school buildings, the gym, the iconic bowling alley, and the fields where hundreds upon hundreds of children played.  They linger like the ghost of Christmas past.  They are a constant reminder that the familiar system that formed so many Catholics has at last failed.  That is a huge blow to the confidence of a parish.

I know that the school is not the core of a parish.  The Eucharist is the source and summit of the faith.  But the loss of a parish school casts that particular pall over a parish, from which it is hard to recover.

In this case, Epiphany decided to lease to Gateway Science Academy.  From many perspectives, this made perfect sense.  The lease would bring money, that would help keep the parish viable.  The school buildings would be in use, with children lending their unique vitality to the campus. Who knows, maybe some of the non-Catholic students might be intrigued by the parish nearby and be interesting in exploring the faith.

But there are always unintended consequences, however, and what has happened is far different, at least so far.

As the article relates:

Parents by the hundreds packed into the auditorium at Epiphany of Our Lord Catholic Church this summer to hear about Gateway Science Academy, a charter school opening on church grounds.
As teachers and school backers spoke into a microphone, Kristine Monti started to ponder whether to pull her two children from the Catholic school in their parish. Gateway Science was appealing, Monti said — the teachers' youth, enthusiasm, its after-school clubs and approach to academics. The student body would mostly come from the neighborhood — another plus, she said.

And, it was free.

The next day, Monti called Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School. She requested a tuition refund and enrolled her son and daughter at Gateway Science, a publicly funded school with no religious affiliation.

Dozens of other Catholic families with children in south St. Louis parish schools did the same, withdrawing 80 students from schools including St. Joan of Arc, St. Ambrose, St. James the Greater and St. Frances Cabrini — schools already struggling with fewer students and a tough economy. Now those schools faced losing tens of thousands of dollars in tuition payments to a school leasing space, at $10,000 a month, from the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Instead of drawing non-Catholics to Epiphany, it is drawing Catholics out of the parochial schools.  Why? 

I ask again, if the only difference between the public school and the Catholic school is the cost, why wouldn't the free school win out?

"All of a sudden, boom," said Monsignor Michael Turek, the pastor at St. Joan of Arc and dean for the South City deanery. "Quite frankly, it blew our budget out of the water."

I realize that there are some obvious rejoinders to the proposition.  First, the weakest Catholic school, one may argue, is more conducive to a total formation of a child than a public school, which is more subject to the whim and novelty of government-mandated social programming.  Next, one could point out that the parents' Catholic faith may not be very strong to pull them out of the parish school so readily.

These points, even if containing some truth, beg the obvious questions:  How did the parents' formation go so wrong?  Why aren't they Catholic "enough"?  What were they taught about the faith?  Is the school Catholic enough to justify the increasing tuition costs?

Are our schools indeed Catholic?  If so, they are worth the sacrifice to support, and if not, they are not.

People will vote with their feet.

Their departure exacerbates declining enrollment in the city's parochial schools. Enrollment has dropped to 4,017 this year, down from 6,653 in the 2000-01 school year. The number of parish elementary schools in the city also has dropped, to 18 from 27, according to the archdiocese.

Some parents said their decision to leave Catholic schools for Gateway was purely financial. The annual tuition for multiple children could exceed $12,000 a year and left no money for much else, including college, they said.

Christi Nigl, who had been sending her children to St. Joan of Arc, said a private high school was out of the question, she said. "When you're looking at $10,000 for high school, that's a lot of money."

Something has to change.

 Continue reading:  Charter school leasing space from archdiocese draws Catholics


Long Skirts said...

Timman asks:

"How did the parents' formation go so wrong? Why aren't they Catholic "enough"? What were they taught about the faith?"


Money doesn't
Grow on a tree
But peaches, pears
And apples are free

The love of money
Has an evil root
The love of God
Has roots that fruit

Without their money
Their faith might rot
No matter how prepared
Or how well they plot

For safety in money
AND God they say -
Will keep them dry
On a rainy day

But the farmer who plants
God's precious seed
In TRUE Catholic fields
Priest at Mass with the Creed

Will gain an orchard
Bloom Catholicity --
Where peaches, pears
And apples are free

Anonymous said...

After nine years in our parish school we left to homeschool.

The biggest problem we found with our parish school was that the pastor and the Catholic Education office, even when confronted with personnel who clearly should not be working with children in any capacity, much less teaching, were far more concerned about preserving the status quo/protecting jobs, than doing what was best for the kids.

The education our kids were getting there was subpar. Why pay so much money for mediocrity (actually it was worse than that)? I know that some parish schools are absolutely wonderful, but ours isn't.

I think it's a huge problem. I hope Archbishop Carlson can fix it.

Michael Bavlsik said...

We have sent our eight children to a wonderful Catholic elementary school in St. Louis. We have used the local public schools for high school for both financial and academic reasons. We are very happy with those decisions.
If one Google's "Archbishop Burke"+"Catholic Schools" about 2000 articles appear- the first few hundred of which do not seem to deal with Catholic Schools but rather with home schooling or other Burke-like topics. If one Google's "archbishop Carlson"+"Catholic Schools" about 2000 meaty and relevant articles appear.
We live in a Catholic parish where the pastor has proclaimed:"I inherited a school with a parish attached" . Even the most ardent of his fans have no choice but to acknowledge that his support for the school was at best an acknowledgment of his sense of "school burden".
A friend of mine- who would be hurt by his public outing -is a cleric who worked day after day with Archbishop Burke, celebrating liturgies and driving with him to parishes for confirmations and dedications. He has told me that the Archbishop wondered why Catholics had to be burdened with parish schools when the Protestants had no such financial burdens.
An anonymous statement is worthless; by their deeds you shall know them. When did Archbishop Burke offer support for Catholic Schools. When did he endorse their competition in the form of Catholic home schooling?
If Catholic schools are important the bishops and archbishops and cardinals and pastors will support them. If they are silent, schools will close and we will become like the Protestants- financially solvent and morally bankrupt.

Anonymous said...

Those poor diluded parents. Charter schools are not the answer. Those poor kids will now be faced with the testing nuttiness that rules the public/charter school system. They will also be subjected to every "new" idea/pedagogy that comes out of college of education. I wonder how many will stay as charter students.

If you send you kids to SLPS, you don't have to worry about college as they probably won't get in to anything other than the UM system because the school system is unaccredited.

I disagree about the financial issue up to a point. I'm sure all these families have cable and sign the kids up for extra-curricular activities that costs money. It's all a matter of priority.

Anonymous said...

This is the model being used at this charter school: http://www.conceptschools.org/?page_id=606

Those poor kids. Non native English speakers for teachers. Which I'm not opposed to mind you, but can be a disaster for language development.

Direct Instruction is code for lecture. Mandatory after school activities. Standards based means they will be tested every week.

Focusing on Math English and then Science. Amazingly what the state tests on.

Weekend classes.

The focus is all on math and science and not literacy. I do hope they are going to teach reading. Disaster.

And of course, now parishes will be forced to do children's liturgy of the Word and have PSR. Watering down the Catholic Faith even more.

Tina aka Snupnjake said...

I wonder where these parents think the money for the charter schools come from? It comes from your taxes and property taxes. They are paying for the school.

Anonymous said...

My question to the Timman is, What has to change?" $10,000 for a year of high school and that cost is only going up. I pray ABSP Carlson can somehow change that. An equally important issue is that catholic high schools have become a status symbol. Any catholic school is a good option b/c of the spiritual opportunities not because it makes someone appear to be wealthier than another.

X said...

I'm surprised no one has mentioned what was clearly the main factor in the collapse of the Catholic school model, the complete annihilation of the various teaching orders of nuns. Without this "slave" labor force the system was doomed to failure. With lay faculty you must charge tuition, with tuition you immediately alienate the larger, the poorer and in many cases the most Catholic families. With the loss of these families and the rapid acceptance of birth control, resulting in even fewer students, tuition must rise until you have a situation such as in Belleville where 60% of the students are an only child. Thus you create a perverse system where often the most devout Catholics find themselves subsidizing the "Catholic" education of barely nominal catholics, an education they themselves cannot afford in no small part due to their adherence to their faith. Of course the deep infiltration and corruption of the Church worldwide in this same period only made the struggle to maintain these schools even more pointless. But let me point out that even in the heyday of these schools in the 1950's and 60's if you had told Catholic parents that they would have to pay e.g. $200 or $300 a year per child for tuition there would have been an immediate mass exodus.

Anonymous said...

Well perhaps the Queen of the Holy Rosary SSPX school would be a good option. At least there, children receive baltimore catechism, the traditional mass three times a week,frequent rosaries, small class size, dedicated and Catholic staff, and a very affordable tuition. The school is very respectful of parents wishes regarding confession, first communion, and other challenging considerations.

Cathy D said...

We moved our daughter from public to Catholic schools for high school and will, if possible, send our other two there as well. We WANT to give our children a Catholic school education.

Two important points have already been brought up. One, in order for us to sacrifice we have to feel like they are getting a truly Catholic education. We think so.

Second, I totally agree that the nail in the coffin has been the switch to lay teachers. When you have to pay lay teachers a competitive rate (for St. Louisans remember all the ruckus a few years ago about a "just wage"???) you automatically price many families out of Catholic education. I think this is ESPECIALLY true when adult catechesis is so abominable, as it is now. I think if more adult Catholic parents knew their faith better they would make a Catholic education a priority. As it is, they think, what does it matter?

Teacher's Pet said...

The unjustice to Catholic schools by our forced support of public schools is so clear. The public schools have no competition and automatic government payments, so they are inferior. The Catholic schools are trying to attract the protestants, so they water down the Catholicism.

If our government would give every family a voucher, to take to the best school of their choice, including religious schools, it would force all schools to better themselves. The Catholic schools will improve as well, to stand out from the other schools who will all become better academically.

Of course, the elimination of the NEA, and the teacher's unions will be necessary, as well as the government butting out of the curiculum selections, and other micromanaging.

Anonymous said...

"First, the weakest Catholic school, one may argue, is more conducive to a total formation of a child than a public school, which is more subject to the whim and novelty of government-mandated social programming."

Actually, I would argue the counter, if, by "Catholic school". you mean those schools that purport to be Catholic that nonetheless: (i) support agendas that are antithetical to Catholic morality, (ii) do precious little in the way of forming a Catholic faith, and (iii) can at best be described as "culturally Catholic".

If you would not call a school like that a "Catholic school", then never mind. . . but using that definition, I would posit that there are very few Catholic elementary schools anymore.

Proud SLPS Parent

Anonymous said...

This is unfortunate. I don't have answers, but X is not incorrect to point out that without the religious orders staffing the schools at such low costs, here we are. I consider Catholic high school tuition to be unthinkable. It looks like a choice b/twn Catholic HS and a college education. But, you could tell your kid he's on his own for college, I suppose. My parents didn't put me through college--though they helped in various ways, I admit.

Generally, I wonder how valuable any education institution is today in the US. Some higher ed is so ideologically driven rather than teaching academic inquiry. We're in our public school for Sp-Ed services--which is a need Catholic schools cannot meet. Believe me, our theoretical children would have had a Catholic school education. Yet, is the religious education at Catholic schools "all that" any more? Are we not best off with homeschooling academic and religious education if we have the will and temperament to do so? I may have our kid opt out of the "group" first confession (er, reconciliation) experience at our parish. I can't believe they claim that kids don't need to learn "Bless me Father, ..." even for reconciliation services. And at what age does a person at my parish learn that he must confess (and cease of course) a mortal sin prior to receiving Our Lord. Will our parish tell folks that skipping Sunday or HDO Mass constitutes a mortal sin. I shan't hold my breath. [Sorry for the rant du jour.]

Anonymous said...

"If you send you kids to SLPS, you don't have to worry about college as they probably won't get in to anything other than the UM system because the school system is unaccredited."

Anon, but your post is astonishgly ill-informed. Unaccreditation means absolutely nothing to whether a child will get into a good college, or any college, for that matter. Case in point: Metro High School, one of the SLPS-run magnets, is one of the top 100 high schools in the nation, and the highest-ranked high school in the state. It regularly places its graduates in the Ivies.

Proud SLPS Parent

Anonymous said...


All good points. The one about devout Catholics subsidizing "barely nominal Catholics" is elegant and well-though out, even if put somewhat improvidently. The lack of niceties with which you stated the point doesn't make it any less true.

thetimman said...

Proud SLPS Parent,

Your quote from my post was my own attempt to make one counter argument to my position-- just to make the record clear for anyone reading the combox who didn't see the context. I don't believe it any more than you do.

I didn't focus on this area in the post, but I could phrase it here in this way:

I can arm my children spiritually and theologically to defend their faith while attending a public school where our faith is rejected or belittled. It is harder, much harder, to do the same to arm them from a so-called "Catholic" school that seeks to convince them that what we teach them isn't Catholic at all, and which instead substitutes its non-Catholic teachings AS Catholic teachings.

And not just that, we also get to pay dearly for the service--in money, yes, but also in the potential for spiritual damage to our children.

X is right about the religious orders issue. Lay staff costs more. Increasing nifty high-tech computer labs and exotic extra-curriculars costs more. But the one thing we CAN do at NO additional cost (and likely at less cost) is to make the school vibrantly Catholic, through and through.

The school exists to give our children Catholic formation. Our children do not exist to fund the school.

Anonymous said...


I assumed that you were playing devil's advocate (no pun intended, although, now that I think of it, that is kind of funny).

Your third paragraph is the other shoe that I meant to drop in my post before prematurely hitting send, with the exception of this "while attending a public school where our faith is rejected or belittled". It has not been our experience that our faith has been rejected or belittled in the public school system. Indeed, in some ways, our faith has been supported; remind me to tell you that story one of these days.

It is true that our children have had to face moral and social issues that we would have rather had them face later in life. I note, however, that their peers in Catholic schools have also not avoided those issues that I am referencing.

Cathy D said...

To support "Proud SLPS parent", my husband is a "Proud SLPS teacher" at a high school. Graduates of the public high school DO get admitted to a variety of schools. I work down the street from him at SLU and we have some of his students....

Anonymous said...



SLPS Proud Parent, funny, I seem to remember the SLPS screaming that if the state took away the accredidation, the students wouldn't be able to go to college because they wouldn't be accepted. Or they would have to have other evidence that they were college ready.

Metro. One bright spot in an otherwise dismal picture. And tell me how these parents who were in the Catholic system, suddenly going to figure out how to get their kids in the magnets and game the system.

I'm shocked. Because as a city resident I'm constantly told the schools need more money because the students aren't able to go to college.

What is the college persistance rate for SLPS? Notice I asked for the persistance rate, that is how many students from SLPS finish the first year...

Anonymous said...

Anon 16:58:

Of course public educators always ask for more money, just as all public entities do (or, sadly these days, private entities looking for handouts). Parroting as truth claims made by public entities in seeking more funding is not particularly good practice. Of course, if Anon 00:06 was just being sarcatic, then carry on.

As far as the other criticisms of the SLPS, yes, the SLPS has a fantastically difficult job educating children in waht is all too sadly a typical urban school district, thanks to the breakdown of the family and the rampant poverty. The same is true in many rural areas of Missouri, BTW, but the scope in an urban district is much greater just because of the sheer numbers of people. Snark and sarcasm don't really help the situation.

FWIW, one of the good things that the Archdiocese is doing is in providing free schools on the northside, St. Louis Catholic Academy, for instance.

As far as the Magnet system goes, I am a bit puzzled as to what you mean by "gaming" the system.

Proud SLPS Parent