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The Deacon's Bench

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at one enterprising business model:

Tim Busch has an answer to the epidemic of closing Catholic schools. And it has nothing to do with vouchers.

It couldn’t come at a more critical moment. Over the next few days, nearly 2.2 million students and their families will celebrate Catholic Schools Week. Though the Catholic school system remains America’s largest alternative to public education, the number of both schools and students is roughly half what they were at their peak in the mid-1960s. According to the National Catholic Education Association, the trend continued last year, with 162 Catholic schools consolidating or closing against only 31 new openings.

Amid the gloom Mr. Busch offers a prescription for revival: End the financial dependence on parish or diocese. Build attractive facilities. And compete for students.

If that sounds like a business formula, it is. Mr. Busch is a good friend I came to know through Legatus, an association of Catholic CEOs. Spend any time around him, and you’ll find he believes that America needs Catholic schools more than ever, and that they can compete with the best. To prove it, he’s helped start up two privately run Catholic schools–St. Anne elementary school and JSerra high school, both in southern California.

Now, there are plenty of upscale Catholic schools with waiting lists–especially those run by religious orders. But here’s a fact that gets little mention: a Catholic education is in danger of becoming a luxury for the middle class. It’s hard to be optimistic about the future of Catholic schools in our inner cities if Catholics cannot make a go of these schools in the suburbs, where most Catholics live.

Do the math. In my area of New Jersey, for example, a Catholic high school whose tuition clocks in at $15,000 a year is deemed a bargain. For a family with three or four kids, the total tuition can top $3,000 a month. Young middle-class families struggling with a new mortgage and high property taxes can find themselves squeezed: not wealthy enough to pay, not poor enough for aid.

In Mr. Busch’s case, he says he got the idea for starting up St. Anne after he and his wife went looking for a Catholic school for their first child–and were depressed by the dilapidated facilities they found at many schools. Ultimately he and his partners settled on a model where parents take responsibility for operating the school, with the diocese ensuring the teachings are authentically Catholic. It’s a division of responsibility much in line with Vatican II, freeing up pastors to be pastors while tapping into the financial, legal, and business abilities of lay people.

Check out the link for more.

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