Cleveland Catholic private schools get needed help from state program
CLEVELAND — As the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland considers closing churches because of limited finances and shrinking congregations, the state’s voucher program has helped stabilize enrollment at the diocese’s city schools.
The program, which allows students to apply taxpayer money toward tuition at private schools, started in 1995 for Cleveland and was later expanded to include low-performing school districts statewide.
More than 80 percent of students in at least seven Catholic elementary schools in Cleveland use vouchers to attend.
Vouchers have kept Catholic school classrooms filled with students, but the program is still not enough to cover the full cost of sending a student to a diocese-run school, said Margaret Lyons, superintendent of the Cleveland diocese’s schools.
“Positive enrollments stabilize a school,” she said. “However, vouchers do not cover the costs, so schools still need to find resources to supplement vouchers.”
Catholic schools are being shuttered in large cities across the country, and that’s hurting low-income students, said Clint Bolick, director of constitutional litigation at the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank based in Phoenix.
“To the extent that vouchers have helped Catholic schools stay open in Cleveland and Milwaukee and elsewhere, that’s a godsend for children,” he said.
The eight-county Cleveland diocese is expected to reduce the number of parishes by as much as 20 percent in the next three years. But because the closings are in the planning stages, it’s not clear whether a church would be closed or merged while its affiliated school stays open.
The diocese has 231 parishes and 144 schools, including 34 schools in Cleveland. Vouchers can’t be used in most suburban Catholic schools located in high-performing public school districts because the program is limited to children who are seeking to leave poorly performing systems.
That raises the prospect of suburban parish schools being shuttered in the next few years while the city’s Catholic schools remain open — even though half the children attending Catholic schools in Cleveland are non-Catholic.
Lyons said the schools accept poorer students who aren’t Catholic because “Catholics are taught they are responsible for those who are less fortunate.”
Ohio taxpayers provided more than $16 million in tuition vouchers for more than 5,500 Cleveland children to attend parochial schools for the 2006-2007 school year. Vouchers received renewed funding in the two-year state budget signed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland last week.
Opponents say vouchers take money that should go to public schools.