Pandemic Year Causes A Record Number Of Catholic Schools To Close

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a growing number of Catholic schools to permanently close their doors, a Monday report shows.

Over the past year, 209 out of the nation’s nearly 6,000 Catholic schools have closed, the National Catholic Educational Association’s (NCEA) latest data shows, according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

“More than 90 percent of Catholic schools were open for in-person learning and working within sanctioned health guidelines,” NCEA’s February COVID-19 report stated. “209 Catholic schools had closed – many because of COVID-19, but others due to declining enrollment and financial instability.”

The past year — COVID-19 restrictions and an ensuing downfall in household income — marked the largest single-year enrollment decline since the NCEA began tracking such data in the 1970s, The WSJ reported. Nationwide, the Catholic schools enrolled 6.4% less students than in the previous year.

Enrollment in schools run by Catholic Archdioceses of Los Angeles and New York were down by 12% and 11%, respectively, highlighting the pandemic’s pronounced effect on urban dioceses, the report states. (RELATED: ‘Dig Deep’: Students At Catholic School Instructed To Describe How They Benefit From White Privilege)

The average Catholic school tuition, while still lower than in most private schools, has climbed to about $4,800 for elementary school and $10,000 for high school, posing an even greater challenge to the parents amid the pandemic, The WSJ reported.

The growing number of Catholic school closures may in part be due to the declining portion of the Catholic population. The share of Catholics fell from 24% in 2007 to 20% in 2019, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center analysis.

“It’s not happening in a vacuum,” Mary Pat Donoghue, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told The WSJ. “The overall priority that people are placing on faith in our society has changed.”