Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Darwin on the Radio: Catholic Education Without Tuition

 I'm doing an every-few-weeks feature on the Son Rise Morning Show where I talk briefly with host Annie Mitchel about a topic related to Catholicism and economics.  A few weeks ago we did an initial segment talking about the concept for the segment.  And then this morning we did an interview discussing two dioceses (Wichita and Jefferson City) where parish schools are supported by tithing rather than by tuition, thus making them "free" for Catholic families other than a book and activity fee (and, of course, the aforesaid tithing.)  You can listen to the interview here.  

The following is not a transcript of the radio discussion, but covers some of the same material and expands on some things I didn't have time for on the air.

In researching the topic, I did some reading about the two dioceses.  It turns out that they have supported their schools from tithes rather than tuition since the point where Catholic school began to shift from the old model where religious sisters, brothers, and priests thought most of the classes to the modern model in which teaching is primarily done by lay teachers who, of course, need to be paid.  While most dioceses and parishes solved this problem by charging tuition, Wichita and Jefferson City made a commitment to support the schools through the parish offertory so that families would not have a financial reason to send their kids elsewhere.

To find out more, I called up Fr. Stephen Jones who is the head of Stewardship for the Diocese of Jefferson City.  

I'd kind of expected to discover that there was some kind of "secret sauce" to how these dioceses made it work.  Anyone who's done a certain amount of parish work knows that Catholics are really bad at tithing, so that a whole diocese could support its parish schools through offertory rather than tuition was really surprising to me.  

The answer was surprising in that it wasn't surprising.  Like Catholic parishes everywhere, they work hard on building a sense of stewardship, but it is an uphill battle.  They do work every year asking people to fill out Time, Talent, and Treasure forms and to think and pray about how they can help the parish and school more.  They remind people that the school is a benefit to the whole community and that it is a way of bringing up the next generation of Catholics in the faith.  But really, the only "secret sauce" is that they have decided to make Catholic education one of the primary ministries of their parish.  The school often takes up about 80% of parish funds, so it limits what other things they can do.  But because they consider the schools to be central to their mission, they prioritize it as they decide how to make their parish budgets.

Often when people look at a parish from the point of view of running a business, I've seen them bring a mentality that you should look at different ministries and functions and determine whether they "pay for themselves".  As in, do they bring in enough donation to support their activities.  Ministries or activities that do not pay for themselves may be encouraged to find a way to do so.  This is kind of like how a business manager might look at different product lines or offices of a business and determine whether some of them were not making a profit.

But of course, a key difference is that the purpose of a parish is not to turn a profit.  It's to bring the sacraments and Catholic teaching to its members.  This means that taking a "does this ministry pay for itself" approach can cause a parish to lose sight of its central mission.  Rather than looking at whether ministries are self supporting, it's probably better to ask: What is our mission and how central to our mission is this ministry?  

A parish does still have limited funds.  It can't support everything, so if there's a situation where there's not enough money to go around, it would be essential to pay for the most essential ministries and then encourage people who are passionate about doing other things to find additional resources to support the additional things they want to do.  

In the case of these diocese, they've made a decision that offering a Catholic education to all children in the parish without placing a burden of tuition upon them is central to their mission.  


Anonymous said...

I'm from the Wichita diocese, and my parish's school may work a little differently. Students who aren't members of the parish have to pay tuition, and they make up about 70% of the student body.

Darwin said...


Hmmm. Fr. Jones did tell me that in Jefferson City (and he said he thought Wichita worked similarly) that students who were not registered members of the parish did pay tuition. But he said in their parishes it's usually less than 10% of the kids who are not members of the parish.

Anonymous said...

Same Anon as before! Our parish might be unusual. Sadly, the public schools near our parish are ranked below average, so some families enroll their kids in the parish school instead.