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This WSJ article by Staphanie Banchero and Jennifer Levitz detail some of the promising signs for Catholic schools nationally, Vouchers Breathe New Life Into Shrinking Catholic Schools.  Though much of the largest gains are in states with voucher and tax-credit programs, especially promising is the enrollment growth in large cities like Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles – all in states which lack publicly funded scholarship programs.  It is notable that all three cities have a large commitment to privately funded scholarships and have been proactive in welcoming Latino families to Catholic schools, two factors that may explain some of their recent growth.

One has to wonder if the combination of expanding voucher and tax credit programs and efforts to innovate and adapt to changing markets have started to yield a systemic turnaround.  Though too early to suggest that the 50 year storm of enrollment decline and closure is abating, these are very promising signs that fairer weather may be on the horizon.

For the first time in decades, Catholic education is showing signs of life. Driven by expanding voucher programs, outreach to Hispanic Catholics and donations by business leaders, Catholic schools in several major cities are swinging back from closures and declining enrollment.

Chicago Catholic elementary schools saw enrollment increase 3% this year and 1% last year—the first two-year growth spurt since 1965. Greater Boston elementary schools had a 2% bump—the first in 20 years. And Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Bridgeport, Conn., also added desks for the first time in years.

Nationally since 2000, U.S. Catholic school enrollment has plummeted by 23%, and 1,900 schools have closed, driven by demographic changes and fallout from priest sexual-abuse scandals. Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia have announced plans to close even more Catholic schools.

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But lately, Catholic schools have slowed their overall rate of decline. This year, two million children attended Catholic schools, down 1.7% from last, but less than the average yearly decline of 2.5% over the past decade.

The improving prospects for Catholic schools in some cities come at a time of great ferment in U.S. education. Years of overhauls in public schools have yielded only modest progress. And attendance at independent private schools fell during the recession.

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This school year marks the first opportunity for parents who meet income eligibility levels to apply for an Indiana Choice Scholarship for their children.  According to a WNDU story, more than 1,300 students had been accepted into the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program by the end of last week.  The article reports that roughly 470 of the students will attend Catholic schools in the Fort Wayne South Bend diocese (that number is now, at the time of this writing, up to 550).  To read the full WNDU story, click here: Vouchers spark 40% enrollment increase at Our Lady.

To some, 1,300 hundred students may not seem like a high number, given that the statewide limit on Choice Scholarships is 7,500 this year.  (The cap for next year is 15,000, and there is no cap in future years.)  In actuality, this number marks an undeniable success.  The rules and regulations for the voucher legislation were not released until the second week of July, families and schools a brief window to begin the application process.  Changing schools no doubt requires some level of adjustment for not only the students but the families as well.  In many cases, families were making the decision of whether to apply for a Choice Scholarship at a time of year when school enrollment has normally already been long decided.  One can reasonably assume that the uncertainty surrounding this new process may have caused some families to delay the decision until next year; this has in fact been observed in other states in the first year following enactment of choice legislation.  While the cap of 7,500 may not have been reached, that more than 1,300 students’ families have taken advantage of greater choice is a cause for celebration.