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U.S. Catholic school enrollment dropped last year but 28 schools opened

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Catholic school students pose for photos outside the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains in downtown Cincinnati after the 2013 Catholic Schools Week Mass. (CT Photo/John Stegeman)

By Catholic News Service 

HOUSTON (CNS) — Catholic educators opened 28 new schools and closed or consolidated 148 others during the 2012-13 school year, according to a report issued by the National Catholic Educational Association.

The NCEA has ranked the Archdiocese of Cincinnati as the sixth-largest Catholic school district in the United States. This school year, the archdiocese serves 44,732 students in preschool through 12th grade.

And while a number of Catholic schools have closed, more than 32 percent of U.S Catholic schools have waiting lists.

The NCEA report released prior to the organization’s annual convention, held in Houston April 2-4 and attended by more than 8,000 Catholic educators, also shows that Catholic school enrollment decreased by 1.5 percent during the past school year.

Karen Ristau, NCEA president, said that the closings represent a great loss for the country.

She also pointed out that 525 Catholic schools have opened since 2000 and stressed that the “leadership and vision of Catholic educational leaders, business and civic leaders, working in collaboration with dioceses, make these new schools a reality.”

She said the challenge for schools closing continues to be where they are located.

“We have buildings, many of them historic, in metropolitan areas where the student population has declined. On the other hand, there are waiting lists for schools in many places because new school construction has not kept pace with the population growth.”

The NCEA president added that although there has been a significant decline in the total number of Catholic schools during the past four decades, the church has not lost sight of its commitment to educate children who are poor, particularly in inner cities and urban areas.

“Catholic schools are a major force in these communities and we must continue to find ways to serve the poor,” Ristau said. “Despite population losses and great financial difficulties, 41.5 percent of our schools remain in urban/inner city locations. And when schools do close, dioceses make intensive efforts to help displaced students find a place in nearby Catholic schools.”

She said the schools that have closed would have stood a stronger chance if more school voucher programs were in place. Currently, vouchers are in 12 states and the District of Columbia; 11 states provide tax credit scholarship programs; and six states provide individuals with tax credits or deductions for education expenses.

According to the “Annual Statistical Report on Schools, Enrollment and Staffing: U.S. Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools 2012-13,” there are 1,415,244 elementary students currently enrolled in 5,472 Catholic elementary schools. Secondary school enrollment declined slightly, with 586,496 secondary students currently enrolled, compared to 640,952 last year. Catholic secondary schools total 1,213, compared to 1,225 last year.

According to the report, student diversity in Catholic schools has increased significantly during the past 40 years. Racial diversity in Catholic schools last year was 19.6 percent and Hispanic/Latino ethnicity was 14.3 percent. In addition, 15.9 percent of students in Catholic schools are not Catholic.

CT staff contributed to this report.

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