“Catholic schools have a wonderful record of educating poor and minority children in the cities. It is a shame that the big foundations have not seen fit to keep Catholic schools alive.”
–Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education 1991-1993, ”The Death and Life of the Great American School System”
Our most vulnerable communities are often underserved by low-quality education, perpetuating the problems of persistent poverty and keeping children of low-income communities from achieving their fullest potential. The Catholic school system has an unparalleled record of addressing this deficit.
Catholic Schools: A Record of Excellence
The impressive accomplishments of the Catholic School system are well documented. In 2005, Loyola Marymount University published a study of inner-city Catholic schools in Los Angeles. The study tracked over 200 of the lowest income students in LA’s Catholic schools for five years. Of these students, 97.5 graduated from high school on time and continued on to college. These impressive findings have been largely ignored in the broader education community and philanthropic sector; however, they caught the eye of this foundation.
Furthermore, these patterns have been in place for decades in inner-city Catholic schools. For over a century Catholic schools have been welcoming impoverished families and serving as a stepping-stone to the middle class. The model is clearly flexible enough to accommodate different demographic groups – from Irish immigrants a century ago, to Italian and Polish immigrants in the early 20th century, to African Americans in the mid-20th Century, and, most recently, with Mexican and Central American immigrant families.
The Catholic Schools Consortium
The choice to support inner-city Catholic schools was an easy one for the Specialty Family Foundation. After interviewing urban Catholic school principals from around the country, it was evident that the schools were in danger of closing because of tenuous finances and low enrollment. The Catholic Schools Consortium was initiated to address these symbiotic challenges.
The Catholic Schools Consortium endeavors to boost enrollments and raise funds at nearly a quarter of the inner-city Catholic grammar schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, and to do so in a way that is self-sustaining. The crux of the strategy was the hiring of highly skilled, experienced Directors of Marketing and Development (DMDs) at each of the schools in the Consortium. The foundation funds the majority of their salaries over a three and a half year period, during which time the DMDs the DMDs — who are employees of the schools where they work – are expected to substantially increase enrollment and fundraising at their assigned school. Additionally, the foundation is working with schools to improve their back office financial management capacity. The project is nearing the halfway mark and enrollment and fundraising have increased substantially across the Consortium.