The pace at which Roman Catholic schools closed or consolidated
slowed during the 2002-03 school year when compared with the previous
year, according to a recent statistical report by the National Catholic
Meanwhile, Catholic schools have seen an acceleration in the rate at which student enrollment declined.
"When they close schools, there is generally the assumption that there are enough seats in the area [Catholic] schools to absorb those kids," said Sister Dale McDonald, the director of public policy and education research for the NCEA, who compiled the report. But the data show that a student doesn’t necessarily attend another Catholic school if his or her school closes, she said.
Sister McDonald found in her research that 123 Catholic schools either closed or consolidated in the 2002-03 school year, while 34 new ones opened. The net loss was 45 schools. The previous year, 140 Catholic schools had closed or consolidated, while 47 new ones opened. Sister McDonald did not know the net loss for that year.
NCEA officials worry that most of the schools that are closing are in urban areas and serve children from low-income families. "We want to be in the business of running more that just elite schools," she said. ("Catholic School Closures on Increase," May 21, 2003.)
Currently, 2.5 million U.S. students attend 7,955 Catholic schools. That’s 2.7 percent fewer students than were enrolled in Catholic schools in the 2002-03 school year, the report shows.
In the early 1990s, Sister McDonald said, Catholic schools increased their total enrollment by about 100,000 students. Enrollment started to decline in 1996, she said, and then dropped significantly during each of past three years. During the 2002-03 school year, for instance, enrollment dropped by 2.4 percent from the previous school year.
The NCEA won’t report until next spring how many Catholic schools will close at the end of this school year. Some dioceses, though, are already starting to announce expected closures. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for example, has announced it will close two K-8 schools and consolidate two other K-8 schools into one.
—Mary Ann Zehr
Vol. 23, Issue 29, Page 6