Five years in, school plan deemed a success

Students at St. Stephen Martyr School attended an all-school Mass Sept. 17. Sixty-two percent of families at St. Stephen Martyr receive tuition assistance from the Catholic Education Foundation. A total of $6.5 million was awarded to 3,250 students around the archdiocese for the 2019-2020 school year. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

Five years ago, the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Catholic Education Foundation announced a comprehensive plan to increase accessibility to Catholic education by dramatically increasing tuition assistance, addressing learning needs and centralizing administrative support.

The Catholic Elementary School Plan has achieved many of those objectives, most notably more than doubling the amount of tuition assistance provided to families who demonstrate financial need.

Assistance in 2019

This year, the foundation, together with the archdiocese, its parishes and its funding partners awarded $6.5 million in tuition assistance to 3,250 students.

A breakdown of the $6.5 million in tuition funds shows that the parishes and schools of the archdiocese provided $2 million. Another $1.3 million came directly from the archdiocese and $3 million was provided by the foundation.

An additional $200,000 came from School Choice Scholarships, a private organization, and the Community Catholic Center, which helps students in Louisville’s West End attend Catholic schools.

Since the school plan was introduced in November of 2014, tuition assistance awards have increased by nearly $5 million. Tuition assistance totaled just $1.7 million for the 2014-2015 school year.

One school that has benefited from the assistance is St. Stephen Martyr School, 2931 Pindell Avenue.

The school has a total enrollment of 232 students from 162 families in kindergarten through eighth-grade. Enrollment is up from 225 students last year.

Currently, 62 percent of St. Stephen Martyr families receive some type of tuition assistance.

Last year, the school opened a second kindergarten class for the first time in years, an indicator of future growth, said Bridget Britt, principal of St. Stephen Martyr. It should be noted that an additional 64 students are enrolled in the school’s prekindergarten program.

“We couldn’t be where we are without the CEF’s helps. The CEF does a lot for us and our parents are very appreciative,” she said.

A look at the numbers

In the first full year of implementing the school plan, tuition assistance leapt dramatically from $1.7 million in the 2014-2015 school year. Following are the totals for each school year under the plan:

2015-2016 — $5 million was awarded to 2,400 students.

2016-2017 — $5.8 million was awarded to 2,700 students.

2017-2018 — $6.5 million was awarded to 3,000 students.

2018-2019 — $6.4 million was awarded to 3,100 students.

2019-2020 — $6.5 million awarded to 3,250 students.

Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the CEF, credits this growth to God and collaboration between the foundation, the archdiocese, its parishes and pastors and its donors, both individual and corporate.

“Only by divine Providence have these results been achieved, and we could not be more excited — and thankful — for all that has accrued to the benefit of our Catholic school families who need us,” he said in an interview last week.

The plan initially pledged to increase enrollment in elementary schools by 1,000 students. While increased enrollment at some schools has been very encouraging, Lechleiter said, the overall totals have decreased slightly. Five years ago, the total enrollment stood at 13,200. The approximate total today is 13,100. That number reflects the addition of three schools that have become part of the Archdiocese of Louisville — Holy Angels Academy, Immaculata Classical Academy and Corpus Christi Classical Academy.

“While the overall enrollment did not hit our target, the business of Catholic education is healthier today than it was five years ago. We are very proud of that,” Lechleiter said.

Significant in Lechleiter’s view is the fact that no elementary school has closed since 2014, when Holy Family School on Poplar Level Road shuttered its doors.

“The schools that perhaps have had the most challenges in many cases, not all, have improved. The availability of Catholic education did not diminish,” he said.

While families in schools across the archdiocese receive tuition assistance, a number of schools receive significant contributions.

Since the implementation of the Catholic Elementary School Plan, students at the following schools have received nearly $10 million in aid:

n St. Andrew, 7724 Columbine Drive;

n Notre Dame, 1927 Lewiston Drive;

n St. Paul, 6901 Dixie Hwy.;

n St. Nicholas, 5501 New Cut Road;

n St. Rita, 8709 Preston Hwy.;

n St. Athanasius, 5915 Outer Loop;

n St. Stephen Martyr, 2931 Pindell Avenue;

n St. James, 1818 Edenside Avenue;

n St. Leonard, 440 Zorn Avenue;

n John Paul II, 3525 Goldsmith Lane.

A ‘New Day’

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz acknowledged the progress to improve access to Catholic education “to families who yearn for this gift but cannot afford it.”

“The selfless generosity of the faithful of all 110 parishes and their pastors across central Kentucky to support the education of our young people is so meaningful to the future of Christ’s church,” he said in a press release. “What began five years ago as a ‘New Day’ in Catholic education continues to gain momentum, positively impacting the lives of more and more families each year.”

Beyond financial aid

Superintendent of schools Leisa Schulz noted in a recent interview the significant strides in tuition assistance.

“The success of the plan over the last five years speaks to the commitment to Catholic schools on the part of our parishes, archdiocese and Catholic Education Foundation,” she said. “Our families know that once they enter a Catholic school, they will be able to stay in a Catholic school,” Schulz said in an interview Sept. 16.

She also reflected on other areas of growth, which were prescribed by the plan

For example, in an effort to increase accessibility to schools, the archdiocese provided start-up grants to St. Rita, St. Leonard and St. James schools to provide bus services.

Schulz also highlighted advocacy efforts in support of scholarship tax-credit legislation. Such legislation would grant tax credits to individuals or businesses that donate to scholarship-granting organizations, such as the CEF.

Some schools have implemented new structures to address learning differences among students.

Holy Trinity Clifton Campus recently opened its doors to students in grades two to five with language-based learning differences.

St. Francis of Assisi School has implemented a targeted program for students in intermediate grade levels to address different learning needs, Schulz said.

One area for potential growth, Schulz said, is looking for opportunities to centralize administrative support, such as communications, marketing and other business services. Smaller schools and parishes, without the support of large staffs, may benefit the most, Schulz noted. The plan called for this sort of collaboration.

Looking to the future

Going forward, Lechleiter said the foundation will continue to work on behalf of the families who rely on continued assistance.

Despite the growth in the past five years, Lechleiter said “a lot more work needs to be done.”

First, he said, the foundation will continue to increase its general fundraising efforts. One strategy is to tap corporate partners in a more strategic way. Past fundraising efforts have largely focused on individuals and families.

“We need to communicate to employers that their investment in a child today is essentially work-force development in the community. For employers, there is a real return on their investment for this enterprise,” he said.

Second, he said, the foundation must dramatically increase its endowment. Today, the endowment stands at $22.2 million. Five years ago, it was $20.6 million. In each of the last five years, the foundation has withdrawn approximately $1 million to fund tuition assistance grants, he said.

“We need to grow the endowment in the next 5 to 10 years to $50 million. While it’s been very helpful to draw $1 million a year to assist families, which is very meaningful, we need a larger base in which we can draw more over time to help families,” he said noting his long-term goal is to see the endowment at $100 million.

The archdiocese sponsors 40 elementary schools with 13,100 students and nine high schools with 5,900 students across central Kentucky.

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