A letter by Dr. Joseph Brettnacher, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
For the 47th year, the National Catholic Education Association will celebrate Catholic education from Sunday, Jan. 31, to Saturday, Feb. 6. This year’s theme for Catholic Schools Week is: “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.”
Allow me to focus on the last of the three themes, service. Our schools want to serve parents by sharing the responsibility to educate your children, meet their needs, provide them with a choice of schools, assist with tuition and accompany families and their children through graduation from high school and beyond.
Sharing responsibility to educate children
The Holy See and Church teachings affirm that parents are the first and most important educators of their children and have the right to educate their children according to their moral and religious convictions. Most parents want to share the responsibility of educating their children with schools. Thus, the school becomes an extension of the home. Canon law, a code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church, indicates that Catholic parents should provide a Catholic education for their children. If they cannot, they are bound to provide them with a suitable Catholic education outside the school. In this shared responsibility, parents and educators must collaborate and work cooperatively. For parents to want to partner with our schools in the shared responsibility of providing their children with a quality Catholic education, we must meet your needs.
Identifying the needs
In a recent focus session with the marketing firm 86, a diocesan leadership group of educators discussed parents’ needs in a quality Catholic education. Some of the items parents expressed to principals included: faith and character building, good quality academics, college preparation and science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Also, parents want the school to provide safety, discipline, extra-curricular activities, structure, soft skills, good peer groups and more.
In a 2018 study conducted by Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities and the National Catholic Educational Association, the organizations asked 1,043 parents — Catholic, non-Catholic and Hispanic — their three most important educational needs for their children. The first was encouraging individual and critical thinking (53%). The second was preparing children to enter the job market (47%) successfully. The third was to prepare their children for college (43%).
“Religion was important, but the perceived need for additional religious instruction appeared to be lacking,” the report said. In other words, parents felt schools already provided adequate religious instruction.
Providing a choice of schools
The Catholic Church asserts that parents must have a choice (i.e., public and nonpublic) when choosing the best school for their children. They believe the choice is a fundamental right of parents based on many factors. However, the biggest factor, according to the report, is whether parents perceive they can afford a Catholic education for their children. The Holy See and the Catholic Church contend that it is difficult to see how Catholic education can remain affordable without public funding. We are fortunate that Indiana does provide some public funding to assist families with tuition.
Public and private support
Indiana provides some public funding for parents who want to send their children to a nonpublic school. A qualifying family can receive a voucher through the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program. It is important to note that the money follows the student and does not go directly to the school. Also, Indiana has a Scholarship Granting Organization Program for donors who want to direct funds to nonpublic schools by giving to a Scholarship Granting Organization. Qualified families can apply for an SGO grant. Finally, most parishes provide some form of tuition assistance, such as tiered tuition, parishioner and nonparishioner rates, and scholarships. A brief explanation of all three follows.
Indiana Choice Scholarship
The ICS Program provides state funding to families of qualifying students to offset tuition. Students have to meet three criteria. First, the student must reside in Indiana. Second, the household’s annual income must be less than a predetermined Federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program limit. Finally, each student must meet one of the eight ICS Program tracks. The eight tracks are: 1) Continuing ICS, 2) Previous ICS, 3) Previous SGO, 4) Special education, 5) “F” public school, 6) Two semesters in a public school, 7) Sibling or 8) Pre-K. For more information on these three criteria, call the Catholic Schools Office at 260-422-4611 and ask for Karen De Rose, or email her at email@example.com. You can also go to our webpage to access contact information on the diocese’s 43 schools https://diocesefwsb.org/Catholic-Schools-Office/. Ask for the principal.
Parish tuition assistance
Many parishes charge lower tuition than what it costs to educate a student. Some charge a lower rate based on the number of children in the family. Many schools have parishioner and nonparishioner rates. Almost all schools have scholarships. Also, the diocese has tuition assistance in the form of scholarships or funds from a foundation. To learn more about the assistance, contact your parish school. The CSO website has contact information for our 43 schools on its webpage, and each school has an expert. Another option is to contact De Rose.
Through graduation from high school and beyond
In Catholic schools, our telos, or ultimate goal, is different. While other schools may talk about college and career readiness, our goal is eternal. As parents, we have no greater responsibility than to help our children get to heaven and become saints. The diocese’s Catholic schools are here to help parents with this awesome responsibility. Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver stated it beautifully in his 2006 book, “The Holy See’s teaching on Catholic schools”:
“The Church sees education as a process that, in light of man’s transcendent destiny, forms the whole child and seeks to fix his or her eyes on heaven. The specific purpose of a Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, loving God and neighbor and enriching society with the leaven of the gospel, and who will also be citizens of the world to come, thus fulfilling their destiny to become saints.”
We can accomplish this formation best in a faith community where we learn from and with each other and pray together as a community. We invite Catholic parents to be a member of one of our school communities. From the “first point of interest,” we begin to develop a relationship with you. Your family can take a tour of the building, have your child shadow a current student for the day and participate in special events. We will provide help with the application and tuition assistance process. We are committed to sharing the responsibility of educating your children by providing a quality Catholic education. Our relationship with you will not end upon graduation of your children from our schools. Beyond graduation from high school, our schools will keep you informed about progress, provide you and your children opportunities to participate in special events, seek your input on important issues, and hopefully continue to assist you and your child on your journey to heaven.
The 43 Catholic schools of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend are committed to serving families by sharing the responsibility to provide children with a quality Catholic education. We will work hard to meet your needs and provide you with an affordable Catholic school option with three tuition assistance possibilities. Our relationship with families and their children extends beyond their graduation. We will continue to keep you informed, invite you to special events, seek your input, and help you and your children achieve the ultimate goal of Catholic education, heaven. If you have yet to visit one of our schools, we invite you to do so because Catholic education is a journey for a lifetime.
Dr. Brettnacher is the superintendent of Catholic education for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
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