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A message from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. on the importance of Catholic schools
In the Diocese of Trenton, there are 39 Catholic elementary schools and 11 Catholic secondary schools that provide an excellent education to their over 15,100 students. Parents opt for these Catholic schools often at great financial sacrifice. Enrollments, however, are declining and have been for some time now.
A recent article posted on NJ.com – “These Are All the NJ Catholic Schools Closing and Merging This Year,” June 11, 2019 – noted that declining enrollment and subsequent financial strain on their parish sponsors have resulted in decisions to close or merge Catholic schools. Here in our Diocese, one Catholic elementary school has closed this year, another two Catholic elementary schools have merged, and a third has transitioned from a diocesan regional to a parish-based Catholic school.
The Diocese has studied the situation in all our Catholic elementary schools extensively and has produced two reports on Catholic school “sustainability” – one in 2013 and another in 2018 – with a goal to develop criteria and a plan to “sustain” and keep our Catholic schools open wherever possible rather than to close them.
Given the steadily escalating costs of providing an education that is both faithfully Catholic and academically excellent, and the school and property tax burden that all New Jersey families face, the prospect of sending children to Catholic schools rather than tax-supported public schools has become problematic for our Catholic families. Another recent article posted on NJ.com – “The 30 NJ Towns Paying the Highest Schools Tax Bills,” August 3, 2019 – observed that New Jersey has the “highest-in-the nation property taxes” and that “school taxes account for 52 percent of that.” Non-public school vouchers (parental school choice) available and shown to be effective in other states and scholarship initiatives would certainly make a difference here, but unfortunately, they do not seem to be on the horizon for Catholic parents in the Garden State.
As a diocesan bishop who has spent virtually all of his priestly ministry in some form of Catholic education, current challenges to providing and sustaining our Catholic schools, despite the increasing financial burdens involved, weigh heavily upon me. And, yet, our Catholic families cannot lose hope. Catholic schools in the Diocese of Trenton are an excellent choice and a tremendous investment in our future. […continue reading]
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