BLOG: Amid Education Turmoil, Catholic Schools Thrive

This week marks Celebrate Catholic Schools Week, and there’s a lot to celebrate. From the fact that they were among the first to reopen after COVID to the statistics showing impressive test scores relative to public schools, Catholic schools have proven to be an important option for America’s students.

But perhaps the best thing about Catholic schools, regardless of both politics and religion, is that they continually do more with less. With less funding per student, they achieve better results.

The average annual tuition at Catholic secondary school is $11,240. This may seem like a hefty price tag, but compared to public schooling in most states, it’s a relative bargain: On average, it costs taxpayers $15,621 to educate a student in a public school for one year. In New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, the three highest-spending states, per pupil expenditure tops $20,000 annually. If families had access to the funding allocated to their child’s education, those dollars could cover a sizeable chunk, if not all, of the cost of a Catholic school education.

Catholic schools are getting a better return on a smaller financial investment. A report from the Washington Policy Center found last year that if Catholic schools were their own state, that state would rank first in math and reading. This upends the teacher union lie that more money is the solution to our nation’s educational ills.

Part of the reason Catholic schools can do more with less is that they are usually controlled at the parish level. There aren’t as many layers of bureaucracy siphoning off funding that ought to make it into classrooms. But other parts of Catholic education have more to do with the underlying philosophy than with the governing structure: Catholic schools are much less likely to waste time telling third graders to unpack their privilege or letting classrooms descend into chaos due to “restorative justice” discipline policies. While individual schools may choose to embrace woke policies, in a typical parish school, kids aren’t going to be forced to waste class time on neopronouns when they should be learning the educational basics.  

It’s no wonder parents are clamoring for opportunities to get their kids into Catholic schools.

The proof of parental demand is in the numbers: According to the National Catholic Education Association, 19% of Catholic school students are not Catholic. Parents are deciding in droves that schools governed by a faith that is not their own are a better reflection of their values than public schools. Public school leaders would do well to examine why.

Though Catholic schools faced their largest enrollment decline in half a century due to the pandemic, signs point to a strong recovery: During the 2021-2022 school year, enrollment rose for the first time in two decades. Parents who had unenrolled their children from Catholic schools re-enrolled, a powerful vote of confidence for how these schools educate their children. 

Growth in Catholic school enrollment is unlikely to reverse any time soon; in fact, it’s likely to accelerate. School choice policies, like education savings accounts, have recently been enacted in Iowa and Arizona. In Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, and more, school choice policies are likely to come up for a vote in the legislature. When these policies come to pass, expect more parents to enroll their kids in schools with a stronger educational track record than their government-run counterparts.

Angela Morabito serves as the spokesperson for Defense of Freedom Institute.