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Lessons on Equity, Accessibility, and Demand for Urban Catholic Education: An Enrollment Report from Partnership Schools

Partnership Schools Enrollment: Lessons on Equity, Accessibility, and Demand for Urban Catholic Education.

As many people now know, the 1918-20 pandemic strain of influenza gets called “The Spanish Flu” not because the disease came from Spain, or was worse there, but because Spain was more transparent about its data than other countries. This week, the National Catholic Education Association brought that level of frankness to discussions about school enrollment during our current pandemic, in a report that notes U.S. Catholic school enrollment is down 6.4 percent over last year. It is not clear yet that this drop is significantly different from other school sectors amid the unprecedented educational disruptions of this year, but it is certainly significant.

As John Reyes from NCEA commented in a recent webinar, “this data is descriptive, not explanatory.” Those of us who care deeply about Catholic schools—and those who understand the crucial role of stable schooling in children’s development—seek the explanations that will help us make sense of this data. Even more eagerly, we seek clear plans of action to ensure that Catholic schools remain an option for all families who seek them.

At Partnership Schools, we have been working for eight years to change the story of Catholic school sustainability in neighborhoods that need them the most. In our work, we’ve found that demand for Catholic education remains strong—yet the barriers for some families to enroll are both varied and unequally distributed. We’ve included our analysis and lessons learned to date in a new report:

The report includes:

  • Our findings about demand for Catholic schools in the areas where we work;
  • Barriers to entry that present families who seek Catholic education from being able to enroll their children;
  • The particular impact of the pandemic on pre-K and Kindergarten enrollment;
  • The necessary-but-not-sufficient role of public school choice funding in giving all families equal access to the schools they choose.

By sharing the lessons we’re learning, we hope to continue translating the urgency of the current moment into action that benefits families and children.