Filling Empty Catholic Schools With Latino Students

Campaign Proposes Win-Win Solution

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SOUTH BEND, Indiana, DEC. 14, 2009 ( A Notre Dame task force is proposing to double the percentage of Latinos in Catholic schools, bringing their number to one million by 2020.

And reaching the goal, proponents say, should mean helping the Latino population to avoid drop-outs, and helping Catholic schools to ward off the threat of closing their doors due to budget pressures.

The Notre Dame Task Force published its report Saturday, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The 64-page report is titled «To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity.»

The goal proposed by the task force is to up the percentage of Latinos attending Catholic schools — now 3% — to 6% by 2020. This would mean going from 290,000 students to more than one million.

The proposal offers a win-win solution, both for Catholic schools and for the Latino population, the task force maintained.

Shutting down

This is because of facts such as in the 2007-2008 school year, there were over 691,000 empty seats in existing Catholic schools. More than a third of those spots were in 13 states where the Latino population was either the largest population or the fastest-growing over the past 10 years.

Empty seats, of course, translate into low funds. This phenomenon partially explains why nearly one in five Catholic schools have closed since the year 2000. The report notes that «elementary schools in major urban areas have been hardest hit.»

Even in the urban Catholic schools that have stayed open, enrollment has dropped by 30% in elementary.

«There are fewer and fewer children occupying seats in fewer and fewer schools,» the report explains.

Not in (Catholic) school

Meanwhile, the number of Hispanics enrolled in Catholic schools has remained stagnant for the past 15 years despite the «robust increase in the Hispanic population,» the report explains. «Or, in other words, the percentage of school-age Latinos in Catholic schools has declined.»

But, the Hispanic population would do well to take advantage of the «Catholic school advantage,» the report notes.

The Hispanic population faces the problem of low performance as a group.

The report cited reports showing that only 16% of Hispanic students are considered college-ready, based on high school completion rates, curricular offerings and literacy scores.

What to do?

According to the Notre Dame Task Force, the situation detailed above makes for two pieces to a wonderfully matched puzzle.

Notwithstanding a series of true obstacles — including elements such as high tuition costs for Catholic education, personnel at Catholic schools little equipped to deal with language and culture barriers, and institutions with poor or no marketing programs — the task force sees an abundance of opportunities.

So, for example, regarding the problem of high tuition — the No. 1 concern raised by potential Latino Catholic school parents — the report assures «money does not tell the whole story.»

It goes on to look at a series of innovative funding methods being used across the nation.

In fact, more than half of the report is a point-by-point look at the obstacles, and how they have become opportunities for a few successful Catholic schools around the United States.

According to the blog of the U.S. episcopal conference, «It seems like Our Lady of Guadalupe is telling us something here.»

«With education, both secular and Catholic, being one of the key priorities for the U.S. Catholic bishops,» the blog notes, «Church leaders are sure to applaud this initiative from Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education and others.»

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On the Net:

Full text of report (in English and Spanish):

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