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May 24, 2009

Officials in state of ‘hopeful watching’

By Michelle Martin


Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago are assuming an attitude of “hopeful watching” toward the number of students expected to enroll for classes next fall.

“We really won’t know until probably August,” said Dominican Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, the superintendent. “That’s when people have to finish up their registrations and buy their books.”

Earlier this year, the archdiocese and the Big Shoulders Fund offered $1 million in emergency scholarship money to Catholic school families in which a parent had lost a job. About $350,000 of that money was for families in schools that receive help from the Big Shoulders Fund, which generally have more than 20 percent low-income students. The rest was for non- Big Shoulders schools

So far, the Office for Catholic schools has received requests for help — at $500 per family — from about 1,300 families in non-Big Shoulders schools.

The scholarship announcement came after a summer in which the schools suffered small enrollment declines. Enrollment dropped about 3.8 percent in the system’s 218 elementary schools and about 2 percent in the 40 high schools, with a total enrollment last fall of 96,197.

Schools have worked to keep tuition stable, with many announcing tuition freezes or minimal increases.

McCaughey said she hopes to find ways to offer more scholarships to families next year, noting that it can take as little as a few hundred dollars to make it possible for students to continue in a Catholic school.

“I can’t figure that we as a Catholic community can’t find a way to do this together,” she said. “Now it’s a question of doing some strategic planning to figure out how.”