One of my philosophy professors often reminded the class that in reading philosophy - or anything, really - there is no text apart from the context. What is the larger context when it comes to the painful subject of fewer Catholic schools?
The National Catholic Educational Association publishes annually a statistical report on Catholic school trends in the United States. The most recent report begins with these dire words: "Enrollment figures for the 2012-2013 school year indicate that there are 29,715 fewer students, a 1.5 percent decrease from the previous year." It goes on to state that "While enrollment has declined in all regions of the country (24.5 percent since 2000), the largest decreases have been in the Mideast and Great Lakes areas that were populated by high concentrations of Catholic immigrants in the late 19th and 20th centuries."
With demographic shifts and the rising costs of operating Catholic schools, it is becoming increasingly more challenging to keep schools of excellence open with reasonable tuition rates for families and just salaries for teachers and administrators. The NCEA report notes that as a result of such factors, "Since 2000, 2,090 (25.7 percent) of schools have closed or consolidated."
It was in light primarily of demographic and tuition-related factors that I made the very difficult decision in January to close 10 of our 45 Catholic elementary schools. It is a decision that every bishop dreads having to face. It was particularly difficult for me, having served for five years in the 1990s as secretary for education in the Archdiocese of Boston.
Catholic education has in many ways been my life. As bishop, however, I am responsible for the entire system of Catholic education in the diocese. In order not only to save, but to strengthen and revitalize the whole, after exhaustive analysis of data, I came to the conclusion that we could not continue to maintain 45 schools, some of them at 65 percent of enrollment capacity.
I fully understand the pain, sense of loss, and anger of those students, families and parishes directly affected by my decision, and who question certain aspects of the process we followed. I regret the impact of any flaws in that process.
At the same time, I remain confident that the correct decisions were made. I am encouraged that the great majority of such students have registered in other accessible Catholic schools. We are continuing to work toward the implementation of STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and mathematics) in order to enhance the programs offered by our schools so that they all might flourish as centers of educational and formational excellence, vibrant communities of faith and learning.
There is not much we can do to alter demographic decline. The Education Investment Tax Credit, however, for which the New York State Catholic bishops and many others fought vigorously during the recent budget process in Albany, would be a game changer for our Catholic schools.
While the Tax Credit was not included in the state budget despite the support of Gov. Cuomo and many legislators, we bishops are determined to continue our effort to get this Tax Credit passed through the legislative session that ends in June. We need your assistance in convincing all of our representatives in Albany to do the right thing to help keep Catholic schools accessible to all, including poor and working class families.
Our Catholic schools are precious. That is why there is such pain when one or more schools close. Can we work together to slow down the national trend, at least here in New York? The Education Investment Tax Credit is critical to a promising future for our schools.