Catholic Schools Are Looking at New Ways To Keep Afloat, Thrive
Today’s Catholic schools struggling to stay open or facing closure need new ways of making money.
Reports of school closures often point to escalating costs of operating schools coupled with the inability of parents to pay tuition, especially in inner cities, and the lack of available resources from parishes or dioceses to keep these schools afloat.
Schools that are thriving have had to seek other forms of revenue from foundations, local businesses and alumni.
Mary McDonald, superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Memphis, Tenn., knows all about needing money — and getting it — to keep Catholic schools open.
In fact, she sought out funds from non-Catholic sources to completely reopen eight diocesan elementary schools that had been closed.
The resurrection theme of these Jubilee Schools in the poorest areas of Memphis came about through multimillion-dollar contributions, foundations, grants, corporate funding and private donations.
When McDonald first started her job as school superintendent in 1998, Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib told her he wanted Catholic schools back in the city. “He also told me there was no money to do this,” she told Catholic News Service Jan. 19.
She knew local Catholics, who made up only 4 percent of the population, could not finance these schools alone, so she turned to the broader community and convinced them that restoring Catholic education in the city was a worthwhile investment.
Since these schools began re-opening in 2000, she has continued her quest for funding and to prove to those who provide financial help — whom she calls investors, not donors — that their funds are making a difference. She frequently gives tours of schools and shows their test scores to reinforce the message that Catholic education is improving the lives of the young people it’s serving, which in turn helps the community at large.
When she asks for help, she said, it is never with the mentality of asking for money for a sinking ship. Instead her plea has always been: “Here’s our plan, come along with us,” which she follows up with proving schools are “worthy of people investing in us” by showing what they do now and their future plans.
As she sees it, the “days of someone being philanthropic because you need money are fading and being replaced by an entrepreneurship philanthropy, which asks, what are you willing to do to make our investment grow?”
Mary Walsh, at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, echoed this idea, saying it was her impression that “fewer and fewer foundations are willing to provide operating support to Catholic schools.” [More]