Catholic Education Foundation celebrates 25 years

Richard A. Lechleiter is the president of the Catholic Education Foundation. (Photo Special to The Record)

When the Catholic Education Foundation was founded, it awarded scholarships to 220 students totaling $110,000. Now, in its 25th year, it provided assistance to 3,350 students for the 2020-2021 school year totaling $6.5 million.

The Catholic Education Foundation, which helps families provide a Catholic education for their children, was established Nov. 1, 1995, by the late Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly.

A year-long celebration is planned to commemorate the anniversary.

Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the CEF, said in the course of 25 years, thousands of students have had their lives positively impacted by receiving the gift of Catholic education.

“In the last 25 years, 32,000 scholarships have been awarded to students. That’s 1000’s of Catholic school graduates living in this community or beyond whose lives have been changed forever. To me that is profound,” Lechleiter said in an interview last week.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said it was Archbishop Kelly’s vision to ensure Catholic schools did not become out of reach for families, particularly those who struggle to afford it.

He noted Archbishop Kelly’s dedication and said “we owe such deep thanks” to him “for his courage and vision to launch what is now a beacon of hope for thousands of young Catholic school students.”

The foundation provides awards in support of four elements of Catholic education — tuition assistance, religious education, professional development of instructors and technology in parishes and schools.

Growth of aid

With the unveiling of the Catholic School Elementary Plan in 2014, both the amount of aid and the number of families assisted have significantly increased. At that time, 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 adminis-trative support.

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

Since the school plan was introduced in November of 2014, tuition assistance awards have increased by nearly $5 million.

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 thereafter 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.

Beyond elementary school

Traditionally, the Catholic Education Foundation has been a partner to families with elementary-age students. Now, Lechleiter said, these families are approaching the foundation in increasing numbers asking for assistance beyond elementary school.

“With the average cost of a Catholic high school being $14,000, that’s a significant figure for families, particularly if you have two or three children,” Lechleiter said.

Families today, he said, are entering elementary school with an eye toward high school. Some families choose to forego a Catholic elementary school experience in order to provide for a Catholic high school. That’s a choice Lechleiter said the foundation doesn’t want families to have to make.

“I think it’s a big thing for us to consider. Part of our next 25 years will be, ‘How do we pull that off?’ ” he said.

A look to the future

Now as the foundation looks to the future, the focus is on growing long-term sustainable funding. Currently, the foundation’s endowment sits at about $24 million. Of the $6.5 million awarded to students this year, $1 million came from the endowment.

“If we look 25 years from now, with the rising cost of Catholic education, the sheer size of our endowment will be woefully inadequate,” he said.

Ideally, he said, the figure needs to at least double and more likely approach the $100 million mark.

Currently, the foundation is conducting a feasibility study to get a better understanding of fundraising capabilities. The results will guide the foundation staff on strategies for increasing long-term funding, he said.

Archbishop Kurtz commended the benefactors of the foundation and said the anniversary year is a great occasion for a “renewal of their generosity.”

“More than ever, Catholic education provides a foundation of faith and of character as well as solid human formation and academic excellence. I believe our schools are preparing good citizens for heaven and for earth,” the archbishop said in an interview.

To learn more about the Catholic Education Foundation, visit ceflou.org.

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