City's Catholic schools post enrollment gains Rise is first in 4 years; system to seek Md. aid


For the first time in four years, enrollments are up in Baltimore's Roman Catholic elementary and high schools, which grew faster than the archdiocesan school system as a whole, according to statistics being released today.

Enrollment at the 39 elementary and secondary schools in the city increased by 2.6 percent this school year to reach 10,891 -- an important surge for city schools at a time when the Archdiocese of Baltimore is gearing up to lobby once again for public funding.

Throughout the archdiocese, meanwhile, overall enrollment in 101 Catholic schools increased by about 750 students -- or 2.1 percent -- bringing the total to nearly 36,000 students.

Ronald J. Valenti, archdiocesan superintendent of schools, attributed the city's increase to aggressive corporate fund raising that will provide nearly $5 million in scholarships to needy city youngsters and to effective marketing of all schools.

He is expected to elaborate on the enrollment figures at the annual archdiocesan Catholic School Convention today at the Baltimore Convention Center. More than 2,100 teachers and administrators are participating in the day of meetings and workshops.

This year marks the seventh consecutive year that enrollments have increased in the archdiocesan schools. Growth remained healthy in the suburbs along with the increase in the city, which has experienced changing demographics and economics in recent years.

In Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties, Catholic school enrollment is up slightly more than 2 percent, to a total of 20,130 students. Many schools in these areas are at capacity with students on waiting lists.

Those growing schools will lend more power to their lobbying arm, the Maryland Federation of Catholic-School Families, which preparing to seek state money for its students in the secular areas of textbooks, technology and transportation.

Forums planned

The federation represents the families of more than 60,000 children in nearly 180 schools in the archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, as well as the diocese of Wilmington, Del.

Tomorrow, with a forum in Towson -- the first of several planned in the area -- the federation will kick off its effort to get Gov. Parris N. Glendening to put $14 million in next year's budget for secular aid.

"That's not difficult for the state to come up with, and it would make such a difference," said Mary Ellen Russell, associate director of education for the Maryland Catholic Conference and the Maryland federation's founder.

"For $14 million, every parent would get a $50 rebate on books, and each school would get four or five more computers."

Those benefits would go not only to Catholic schools, but also to all nonpublic schools.

Last year, families of parochial school students peppered the governor with more than 6,500 letters and gave state legislators "checks" representing the money the state saves because it doesn't have to educate students in private and parochial schools.

Despite the blitz and a noisy rally in Annapolis in February, the governor rejected the federation's request -- not because he was opposed philosophically, but because the state did not have the money, he said.

The state showed a budget surplus of about $60 million at the end of the fiscal year.

'Not giving up'

"We're just not giving up," Russell said. "I think the tide is changing -- at least in terms of public awareness."

The federation has launched a newsletter, the Parent Advocate, which is distributed in the schools, and is undertaking the forums to provide parent training, answer questions and encourage lobbying.

The first meeting is at 7 p.m. tomorrow at St. Pius X School at 6432 York Road in Rodgers Forge. Another meeting will be held in Baltimore on Oct. 22 at Cardinal Shehan School, 5407 Loch Raven Blvd. Subsequent meetings will be in Glen Burnie, Silver Spring and Clinton.

Russell noted that 28 states provide free bus transportation to students in nonpublic schools. Some, including Pennsylvania, use tax dollars to provide such services as school nurses, speech therapists, textbooks and testing.

Twelve counties in Maryland have laws that allow them to provide transportation for private school students, but not all of them do so.

Pub Date: 10/13/97

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