Skip to comments.Diocese offers tuition-free education.(Wichita, Kansas)
Posted on 07/29/2006 6:46:51 AM PDT by siunevada
National Catholic Reporter; 3/26/2004; Donovan, Gill
While many families struggle to pay the rising cost of sending their children to Catholic schools, parishioners in one U.S. diocese don't worry about tuition--including the high cost of tuition for Catholic high schools.
The children of active parishioners in the Wichita diocese attend Catholic schools tuition-free.
A model of stewardship was initiated in Wichita diocese-wide in 1985 by Bishop Eugene Gerber (see "Wichita bishop took 'leap of faith' for stewardship." Parishioners embraced that model, which called for them to give generously of their time and their talents and to give as high a percentage of their income to the church as they could. The bishop wanted to offer free tuition at the diocese's 33 elementary schools. Once the people of the diocese were well on the way to that goal, Gerber extended the plan to the diocese's four high schools.
"It took a little time, a number of years," Gerber told NCR, "but as soon as the parishioners had experienced tuition free at the elementary schools, it became a natural sequence to look at tuition free in high schools." By 1993, the schools charged no tuition for children of active parishioners.
Gerber, who retired as bishop of the Wichita diocese in 2001 at age 70 after experiencing serious heart problems, was asked to again help run the diocese after his successor, Bishop Thomas Olmsted, was transferred to head the Phoenix diocese in 2003.
Many U.S. parishes finance a parochial school. However, diocesan officials in Wichita said they know of no other U.S. diocese to eliminate tuition for parish families in all its schools.
Dan Loughman, Wichita's director of stewardship and finance, told NCR that stewardship began "as a process to get individuals and families to understand that discipleship should be a way of life." Stewardship, he said, does not begin and end with finances. Rather, through prayer and through strong leadership, people in the diocese have come to understand that "all we have is a gift, whatever it is--time, our talents and treasure--and we are to give generously of all of that back through our parishes."
Parishes that don't run an elementary school pay to have their children attend neighboring parish parishes. Parishes that cannot afford to send their children to school without aid receive assistance from wealthier parishes.
"The schools cost about $33 million a year," said Bob Voboril, superintendent of Catholic schools in Wichita. "To start a school year knowing that most of that money is going to come from the pockets of parishioners and it's not in hand, it takes a great act of faith."
Voboril said he is confident that Wichita's Catholics will continue to rise to meet the need. He said the percentage of giving in the Wichita diocese far exceeds the national average. "We have some of our parishes that are over 5 percent of individual family income." He said the national average for Catholics is about 1 percent.
He admitted that other parishes "are not anywhere near 5 percent. But we have some that are about that high." Many are between 3.5 and 4.5 percent, he said.
He said one result of stewardship is the schools are growing larger. Since free tuition was first offered, school enrollment has risen about 30 percent, from 8,000 to 10,400.
To meet the need at the four high schools, some 50 new classrooms have been built, including new laboratories, computer classes and three new libraries. Voboril said that to pay the $15 million for the additions, a diocesan fundraising campaign raised about $6.5 million, and the high schools raised some money through their development programs. 'And some we had to borrow," he said, "although we've got all of it paid off now except a little bit less than a million."
Voboril said that parishioners pay about 80 percent of the high schools' budgets. According to Mike Burris, president of the Kapaun Mount Carmel, High School, the diocese has stayed away from most fundraising campaigns in the form of chocolate sales and "event-type fundraising."
He said they make up 20 percent of costs through "an annual appeal, which will go to our parents and alumnus and grandparents and other friends of the school." Burris said that last year faculty and staff were asked to contribute as well. They had 100 percent participation. This year, for the first time, students also contributed. They were asked to make a gift of $5 or more from their allowance or a part-time job. "We had almost 60 percent participate. We were very pleased with that."
Equal access to education
Voboril said that one of the great advantages of providing free education is that it allows equal access to all Catholic families, regardless of income.
"I think we in the Catholic school community in this country face a very stark decision here in the next 10 years," he said. "That is, are we going to become a system of private schools as they are in Europe or Latin America and many other places that are really only available to the well-off, or are we going to remain a system of Catholic schools that are open to the full range of income levels? There is some research out there that says 40 percent of Catholic school students today come from the upper quartile of income and only 5 percent from the bottom quartile. And that would suggest that we have a school system that was essentially built for poor immigrants 100 years ago that now is pricing itself out of the market for the very people it tries to serve."
According to Leticia Palacioz Nielsen, president and principal at Bishop Carroll High School in Wichita, "I think 25 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch." She said that the school also has families that are very affluent, and that at school and in after-school activities, such as sporting events, students associate freely with people they otherwise perhaps wouldn't.
Voboril said that between 15 and 20 percent of students in the diocese are ethnic minorities, which reflects the state population. "The advantage in our system is that you have more kids from diverse ethnic backgrounds in the schools because money is not the primary issue." He said that the schools try hard to teach racial tolerance and respect in the classroom, although he noted that racial lines do still exist in some parishes and schools.
At least one inner-city school, St. Patrick's, is "probably 30 to 40 percent Anglo, the rest Spanish-speaking or Vietnamese, kids coming to preschool that don't speak English. For those students, volunteers from the parish community help to overcome any language barrier."
A common concern in many Catholic parishes is that once students enroll at Catholic schools they may be less likely to involve themselves actively in parish life. In the Wichita diocese, however, a student who was not active in parish life would have little chance of being "allowed to attend Catholic school.
Parish family agreements
Before a student can gain admittance, he or she must have a parish family agreement, signed by the student, by a parent, and by the family's pastor. The agreement promises that the family will be active stewards in the parish. Weekly Sunday Mass attendance is expected, as well as participation in religious education classes and other parish life activities. On rare occasions, when a student or a student's parents stop participating in parish life, a pastor will withdraw the agreement, and the student will be removed from the school.
According to Voboril, many of the schools are filled to capacity' and it can be very difficult for a family to enroll children without a parish family agreement.
It happens, infrequently, according to Burris, that a family may drop out of a parish "from the standpoint of being active stewards, and not be actively involved in time, talent and treasure commitments." Under those circumstances, a student may be asked to leave the school. "It's a sad day for us at the school," he said.
Nielsen said, "I've had examples where parents have said, 'Well, I can't get a parish family agreement because I'm not going to church.' Yet, they want their child to receive Catholic education, and they might say, 'Well, I'll pay you $8,000 in cash.'" (Tuition at Bishop Carroll High School for those without the parish family agreement is approximately $7,000 per year.)
"I would put them on the waiting list. They say. "Well, can I just pay $8,000? That's not a problem.' And I would say, 'That's not what's important here. What's important is that you are an active Catholic member.'"
In that situation, she said, "You feel bad and wonder, Are you punishing the child?"
According to Msgr. Tom McGread, who was instrumental in the founding of stewardship in the diocese, "The big question is, What good would Catholic education do for them if they don't get support at home? That's the big problem."
Many parents in Wichita and elsewhere want their children educated in Catholic schools because, according to Voboril, "they're stronger academically, better disciplined, and they're safer. Now I think all that is true of our schools, but people here know that if you are going to get into our schools, whatever reason you come for, our schools exist to form disciples of Jesus Christ."
The students in the schools, according to Voboril, are an astounding 98 percent Catholic. The non-Catholic students are often the children of teachers. The great majority of teachers are also Catholic.
For Greg Davidson, math teacher and computer network administrator at Bishop Carroll High School, it is the Catholic atmosphere that attracts him most. "The environment is totally Catholic. It is a real joy. I wake up looking forward to coming into work here," he said.
He said that a stereotype of Catholic schools is that "that we are an elite school, that we only attract the top athletes, the top academic kids. But the reality is we attract Catholic kids. That's the only narrowing that we have here."
Burris, who graduated in 1973 from Kapaun Mount Carmel where he is now president, said the level of parental involvement at his school has grown over the years following Gerber's call to stewardship. "There's not a thing that we need done around here that we can't call a parent to ask for help," he said.
One story "comes to mind that talks about the character of the school more than anything," he said: A couple of years ago, an office worker at the school wanted to donate a kidney to her brother-in-law. In order to do it, she would have to miss several weeks of work during the school year. And she came to us and she said, 'Is this something that I'm going to be able to do?' and we said, 'We'll figure out a way to make it happen.'"
The woman hadn't accumulated enough excused sick leave for such an extended period of time. "So we went to our faculty and said, 'You know, most of us don't use all the sick leave that we have. Would you be willing to donate some of your sick leave to this lady?' And it just came in. The hours and days that we had available to her allowed her to be able to go forward."
He said that to fill in for the woman, they looked for parent volunteers. "We asked parents to sign up for a half day at a time. And again we had many more parents sign up than we could ever use."
RELATED ARTICLE: Wichita bishop took 'leap of faith' for stewardship.
The stewardship process that Bishop Eugene Gerber initiated diocese-wide in Wichita, Kan., in 1985 calls for parishioners to give freely of their time, their talents and their money Its success in Wichita has attracted wide interest in many other U.S dioceses.
Retired since 2001, Gerber said his personal conversion began in a second-grade classroom when he was serving as bishop of Dodge City, Kan. He told NCR: "A second grader asked me, 'What does a bishop do?' and I asked, 'What do you think he does?' and he said, 'Well he writes letters asking for money.' That was when it first struck me that things have to change."
In 1982, when Gerber was transferred to head the Wichita diocese, he began thinking of ways to change how the diocese was governed. Gerber, who had served as a priest in the Wichita diocese before becoming bishop of Dodge City in 1976, knew of one parish where changes had already occurred.
Msgr. Tom McGread told NCR he first began considering a new model in 1959, after he read an article by two Mobile, Ala., priests who were trying to "come up with a Catholic idea of the Protestant practice of tithing."
He explained that when he introduced the model to his Wichita parish, St. Francis of Assisi, in 1969 his "emphasis was getting the people involved in the Parish, with their time and their talents. Once they became involved, they got a sense of belonging. Once they got a sense of belonging, then they got a sense of ownership."
McGread asked his parishioners to work out a percentage of giving, "according to what the Bible told us," he said. "I advised them to start with a lower percentage and work up and see if they missed it. One of the promises I made to them was if they were worse off financially at the end of the year after tithing, they could come back and we'd give them all their money back. In 40 years I never had anyone do that."
Gerber was encouraged by St. Francis' success. He began to hold meetings around the diocese asking three questions: "What are the qualities of a good parish? What are the obstacles? what would you do if you had unlimited resources?" He also began studying ways to meet the increasing challenges of providing Catholic education.
He said the findings "converged into one," and out of that emerged United Catholic Stewardship.
Following the new model, parishes began tithing 10 percent of their donations to the diocese each month, replacing the annual bishop's appeal and special collections.
All parishes agreed to pay for Catholic' education for the children of active parishioners. According to Daniel Loughman, diocesan director of stewardship and finance, between 60 and 70 percent of parish budgets are devoted to paying for Catholic education. The great majority of that money goes to schools, but religious education classes and other education ministries also figure in.
Gerber said that the parables in the Gospels are full of references to stewardship. He said that in order to succeed, the model must be "centered on the Eucharist." That focus on Eucharist is why "probably about 70 percent of our people, somewhere in there, are attending Mass on the Lord's Day. We have perpetual adoration here that I suspect, relatively speaking is unequaled." Currently" perpetual adoration continues in 18 parishes in the diocese. In some parishes it has been ongoing for nearly 20 years.
While free tuition to the schools is one of the fruits of Wichita's stewardship process, it is not the only one. The diocese built The Lord's Diner, a free diner for poor and homeless people, and supports the Guadalupe Clinic, which provides free health care for working poor people.
The conversion to the stewardship model has not always been easy. According to McGread, one of the biggest difficulties has been converting priests, rather than parishioners. Priests, he said, are often afraid that the stewardship process won't be "successful for them."
Gerber said some older priests may have "been schooled more in fundraising than in stewardship. As a consequence, they trust their longtime experience. That doesn't mean their ministry is less for it, but it is not something that I say meets the challenges of our time."
He said that stewardship "very much meets with [the approval of] the younger set of priests because it is a part of their theology, they know the scriptures, and they haven't been a part of any other models."
Gerber said he's been asked by bishops how to get started, and he tells them, "Well, just go start. Just go begin preaching it, go begin learning about it. If nothing else, get a cluster of parishes and start. If it takes one parish, start with one parish."
He said, "Some dioceses have decided they want to do it incrementally. We did it as one fell swoop. It takes a leap of faith to do that."
Gill Donovan is a freelance writer who lives in Minneapolis.
COPYRIGHT 2004 National Catholic Reporter
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.
Don't let that prejudice you against considering the content of the articles.
And this is a mere fraction of the cost of a similar magnitude of government schools. Eliminate government schooling, and we could find this outcome replicated nationwide: private systems, where the better-off contribute, and the less well off are helped by charity.
This is really a great idea. I hope other dioceses adopt it.
Unfortunately, here in the Diocese of Cleveland, the former bishop, Anthony Pilla, took the opposite approach to Catholic education. In 1999 Bishop Pilla implemented his "Cost-based tuition" policy, which urged parish schools to raise their tuitions, to charge families what the average cost of educating each child actually was. This way parishes would no longer have to subsidize the operations of their schools and they would be able to pay teachers more money. Many parishes did, in fact, implement this policy. They raised tuition and eliminated the multiple-child discount that they had previously given to families.
However, many blue collar and middle class families could not afford to pay higher tuition, and they have taken their children out of Catholic schools. Enrollments have declined and many schools have been closed. In 1999 there were 144 Catholic grade schools serving 50,000 students. Today, there are 125 Catholic grade schools, serving 30,400 students. In other words, we have almost 40% fewer children in parochial schools in the Diocese of Cleveland than we had even 6 years ago.
Thank you Bishop Pilla for ruining Catholic education in this diocese. Thank heaven you finally retired.
Maybe we need to move to Kansas!
Tuition is over $4K this coming year. That's what my parents paid for my final year in high school in 1983!
sounds like a good idea.
The children of active parishioners >>>
it looks as though you have to be practicing and active Catholics in your parish in order to have the diocese sponsor your children.
I wish we could move to Kansas.
There was another article last week about someplace in Kansas assisting in home buying too if I remember correctly.
Makes sense. They want to know that the kids in their schools have the support and reinforcement of the lessons at home.
I'd like to know how they convinced the parishoners to not be quite so tight with their money. I remember reading an article in the National Catholic Register entitled "Deep Pockets, Short Arms". It was about how many Catholics don't support their parishes because they still have the immigrant mentality. They complain that they can't afford to give any more to the Church as they leave their big house and drive one of their two new cars to Church with their two kids.
I wish we could move to Kansas. >>>
RUN, Toto, Run!
Lions, tigers and bears, oh my
oh, toto, come back, toto, toto!
I don't get the reasoning behind that description. Immigrants built the Catholic Church (and the Catholic churhes and cathedrals and schools) in the United States. Immigrants with big families in little houses.
You're right that the immigrants built the churches and schools, and they sacrificed to do it. In THAT regard, their children and grand-children don't resemble them, it's just that they want to identify with their forefathers in the INCOME category. Not true, of course, it's an excuse to not support their parishes so they can spend that money on something for themselves or their children.
That's what I mean. Calling materialism and selfishness "the immigrant mentality" is an insult to the all the immigrants who lived sacrificially and built the churches, schools, etc.
Just call it the "me-first, me-second, me-third" mentality!
My parish in Sacramento diocese had a presentation by Fr. John Lanzrath of Wichita about the way that they promote stewardship.
One of his repeated points was, "It's not about the money."
They started by getting people to give time and talent. The treasure followed.
The bishop has been pushing their concept of how to make this work since 1985 and they are currently at 75% of the parishes participating.
I was most impressed with what they have done in education but one of the other minor financial benefits is - No Second Collections. Ever. The special needs that are usually done by a second collection all come out of the regular collection.
33 million per year divided by 10,500 students
= $3,142.00 /student/year
NEA & DNC force the costs up to $10,000/year
at pubic schools (no typo)
But are the schools actually Catholic?
Most Catholic schools have crapola left-wing religious education programs and teachers who know nothing about the faith.
Thanks for the math! I'm boggled at how much people are willing to spend on pubic schools :-), compared to the value received. We have people in my county, living in $500,000 houses, who are going to the school board to agitate for their children to be assigned to the school they prefer.
WHY should these people be prepared to beg the government for preferences, when they could simply pay the fees for them to attend any of a variety of religious and secular private schools? I can only conclude that they've adopted government schooling as a religious observance.
How's your family? Do you have a teenage son? I'm *looking* for my daughter :-).
I would love 4K for tuition. In Georgia we are at 6100 for K-8 and 9800 for high school. We have 2 in high school and one in middle school. (around 27000 + books, uniforms etc.) I am hoping our Archbishop knows about Kansas.
Public school costs so much because of special education. 15 percent or so of public school children get special education services. They are expensive. Some special cases can be up to 100,000 per year. Catholic schools are able to select their students, so they don't have to have special programs for all their students. Not saying there isn't waste etc. but special education accounts for a bulk of the difference.
My b-i-l is a priest in the Diocese of Biloxi in MS. He's been encouraging tithing for years, and many of his parishoners have begun doing it.