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Baltimore Archdiocese Sets Need-Based Tuition Policy

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The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore plans to eliminate subsidies to its parochial elementary schools and institute a policy of need-based assistance that would require full tuition from families who can afford to pay.

The annual subsidies--which last year totaled more than $5 million--have traditionally "benefited all students equally, in that [they] reduced the tuition for all students," Archbishop William D. Borders said in a statement April 11.

"I want parishes to begin to phase out the subsidy," he said, "and replace it with tuition assistance which is given in different amounts to families according to their financial needs."

The new policy is one of three major directives announced by the archbishop this month. Others call for the affiliation of all 160 parishes in the archdiocese with a Catholic elementary school and the establishment of interparish and parish school boards.

Currently, some 60 parishes are not tied to any school.

"It's a very hopeful direction," said Lawrence Callahan, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese. "We involved every parish. The Archbishop wanted to make recommendations that were acceptable and workable."

The policies come after more than five years of discussion and evaluation by parishioners, Catholic educators, and church leaders throughout the archdiocese, which includes most of Maryland.

Three years ago, the archbishop released a long-range plan for the schools that included a number of different proposals, which have been discussed in greater detail since then. His endorsement of the three major policy changes brings to a conclusion what had been called the Catholic Schools Project. (See Education Week, Nov. 19, 1986.)

The Baltimore Archdiocese's 85 parish elementary schools serve about 24,000 students, according to Mr. Callahan. Like most dioceses nationwide, he said, it has been experiencing declining enrollments, due to factors such as the migration of many church members from the city to the suburbs and outlying regions, where Catholic schools are less common. In the last five years, elementary-school enrollment has fallen by about 2,500 students.

"I think the trends here are probably typical," said the Rev. William Au, assistant chancellor for the archdiocese.

In his statement, Archbishop Borders asked parishes to budget at least as much for tuition assistance as they currently spend to subsidize tuition at their schools.

The policies also call for setting up more interparish schools, with parishes not currently affiliated with a school becoming "cooperating sponsors" of nearby schools. Schools will remain single-parish schools only if the parish can maintain a quality academic program.

The Archbishop also called for the establishment of an archdiocesan school fund--an endowment to provide further tuition assistance beyond what the parishes can offer.

Calling the policy changes "visionary," Mr. Callahan said he had been contacted by as many as 60 Catholic dioceses nationwide for updates on the progress of the Catholic Schools Project.

"I believe there is a need to have some kind of a model for other dioceses to follow," he said.

Brother Robert Kealey, director of elementary schools for the National Catholic Educational Association, said the Baltimore project appears to incorporate a number of recent national trends in the structuring of parochial schools.

"There is a movement across the country to involve greater support for Catholic schools from the entire Catholic population, rather than put the burden on parents who have children in Catholic schools at the moment," he said.

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