At a time when Catholic schools are facing dwindling enrollment and financial struggles, the Archdiocese of Chicago is getting a major financial boost for 30 of its Catholic schools, most on Chicago’s South and West sides, the archdiocese announced Wednesday.
The Big Shoulders Fund, which has provided financial support to Catholic schools in Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods for years, will invest an additional $47.5 million to the 30 schools. The fund has historically supported 75 schools, which includes the 30 targeted schools.
The archdiocese is also committing $44.9 million to support these schools in an arrangement that will give Big Shoulders a larger role in operating them.
The new investment comes as a big relief to archdiocese officials who have seen a drop in Catholic school enrollment in the last decades, leading to a regular schedule of school closures. The archdiocese recently announced the closure of five schools in the Chicago area.
“I am absolutely thrilled by this agreement,” said Jim Rigg, superintendent of the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools. “We see this agreement as a next step in [the] evolution of our relationship, our 30-plus-year relationship with the Big Shoulders Fund.”
Despite their enrollment struggles, Catholic schools in Chicago and elsewhere have benefited from a new state tax credit scholarship program that uses taxpayer dollars to help families pay tuition at private schools. Big Shoulders is one of the leading organizations that hands out these credits and benefits financially from them.
The money announced Wednesday will allow schools to continue to pay bills, invest in academic programming and professional development for educators and upgrade and fix school buildings, Rigg said.
This new commitment also means Big Shoulders will play a greater role in the management and operation of the schools. That includes hiring principals and working with them to help them achieve academic, enrollment and financial goals.
Rigg said the financial commitment by Big Shoulders is not specifically for scholarships. While the organization is going to maintain and possibly grow the level of scholarships in these schools, “this new financial support is primarily for operating aid at these schools.”
The 30 schools were chosen because they represent higher poverty populations where families have greater difficulties affording the cost of tuition.
“This agreement came about, nor for the archdiocese, not for Big Shoulders, but for communities, that they will know that their school will continue to exist over a time period,” said Joshua Hale, president and CEO of the Big Shoulders Fund.