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Baltimore Catholic schools: stronger, but still in need of help

Greater private and state commitments are needed to maintain Baltimore's strong network of parochial schools

By William E. Lori

1:03 PM EDT, April 22, 2013

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It has been nearly three years since my predecessor, Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, and the Blue Ribbon Committee on Catholic Schools released the Strategic Plan for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Since that time, enrollment declines have been stemmed in many schools; innovative new programs such as our dual language and Montessori initiatives have kept our schools competitive; and systemic changes to the governance of our schools, renewed focus on school leadership — training of principals and development of local school boards, as well as system-wide accreditation — are ensuring Catholic schools remain an excellent value (average annual K-8 cost is approximately $5,000).

Last year, Catholic schools in the archdiocese had a graduation rate of 99 percent with 98 percent of those graduates going to college. Our students exceed the national average on standardized tests and outperform their peers on the SATs, emerging from our schools with an excellent education and with a character formation that has our graduates poised to lead and to make a life-long contribution to the good of our society. The Archdiocese of Baltimore is committed to the continued presence of Catholic schools in the communities of our archdiocese, including those in Baltimore City; it is precisely our Catholic mission that compels this commitment.

As former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. pointed out in a recent column, our schools are needed, badly. We want not to be closing schools but to be opening new ones. The sad reality, however, is that many families, and not just those living in Baltimore City, cannot afford them in spite of our efforts to offset the cost. Since the mid-'90s, our Partners in Excellence Scholarship program has awarded more than $24.5 million to thousands of children living in Baltimore's poorest communities. And last fall, I announced the archdiocese's commitment to raising $50 million for scholarships and other support for Catholic education. Without the support of the generous individuals and foundations in our archdiocese, many of our schools would have long ago closed.

In spite of all these efforts, broader support is needed to maintain these schools we all agree are so critical for the children they serve, and so vital to attracting new families back to Baltimore. The support of those who benefited from their Catholic education is needed so others might have the same opportunity.

Nonpublic school families also need the support of the state of Maryland, which benefits from the outstanding education our schools provide, to help ease the financial burden that is preventing many parents from choosing nonpublic schools for their children's education. Next year, Maryland is set to give a little more than $6 million in funding to nonpublic schools. Meanwhile, states like Pennsylvania ($340 million), New York ($180.4 million), and New Jersey ($157.4 million) provide hundreds of millions in funding each year to support taxpaying parents who choose nonpublic schools for their children's education.

After 200 years of educating Baltimore area children, Catholic schools continue to provide an outstanding education at an amazing value. They are assets to every community they serve. Like all community assets, we must work together to ensure they are around so future generations can benefit from them.

The Most Rev. William E. Lori is Archbishop of Baltimore. More information about Baltimore-area Catholic schools is available at http://www.archbalt.org.

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