Catholic Schools Lost Students During Pandemic – Pagosa Daily Post News Events & Video for Pagosa Springs Colorado | Wender Mind Kids

This story by Matt Barnum appeared on Chalkbeat Colorado next

Catholic schools serve tens of thousands fewer students than they did before the pandemic, suggesting these schools have not typically been the target of students in the US who forgo public schools.

Catholic enrollment plummeted in the 2020-21 school year, when those schools saw their largest enrollment decline in many decades. In the senior year, Catholic schools experienced a significant but incomplete increase in enrollment.

Catholic education advocates say the schools – which have had students bleeding for decades – need to capitalize on the year-long uptrend to retain new families and attract others.

“When I look at this data from the perspective of a Catholic school, I think it’s a hopeful sign because it means that we, as Catholic school leaders, have the potential to restart enrollment and rebuild from an all-time low.” said Kathleen Porter-Magee, superintendent of a network of Catholic schools in New York City and Cleveland.

Porter-Magee co-authored a report released Thursday by the conservative Manhattan Institute, which optimistically claims in its title that “Catholic school enrollment has boomed during Covid.”

In fact, schools have lost 2.8% of enrollments overall since the pandemic began — the same proportion as public schools. Enrollment in Catholic schools fell particularly sharply in a number of large states—New York, California, Illinois—which also lost significant numbers of students in their public schools.

But while public schools nationally continued to lose students into 2021-22, Catholic schools saw their first surge in enrollments in two decades.

Still, the data shows that Catholic schools have not accepted the students that public schools have lost, at least nationally.

In fact, Catholic schools educated nearly 50,000 fewer students last year than before the pandemic, according to data compiled by the National Catholic Educational Association. Since 2001, the sector has lost nearly 900,000 students.

However, last year’s partial recovery offers some good news for Catholic schools. The Manhattan Institute report shows Catholic schools are better off than pre-pandemic trends would have predicted.

Some suggest the recovery in Catholic school enrollment reflects COVID-era controversies over reopening and masking schools. (The vast majority of Catholic schools reopened for in-person instruction in the fall of 2021, unlike many public schools, according to the NCEA.)

It is possible that the explanation is correct in some places. The report highlights Arlington, Virginia, where Catholic schools have been recruiting students since the pandemic. But the fact that both sectors have lost students on the net makes such claims more broadly questionable.

Another potential driver for changes in Catholic school enrollment is family finances. Catholic schools charge tuition, and in the summer of 2020 the economy was devastated and on the move, which may have prompted some parents to withdraw their students from the Catholic school. The economic boom correlated with the boom in enrollment in Catholic schools.

The available data does not track individual students, so it cannot be shown whether the increase in enrollment affects students who migrate from public schools or homeschooling, or students who return to Catholic schools after a year of departure.

Porter-Magee sees these changes as an opportunity, but not a guarantee, for a revival of the Catholic school. “Does it mean it’s a harbinger of things to come? I’m not sure,” she said.

Some researchers have long argued that Catholic education improves student outcomes—dubbed the “Catholic school effect”—although other studies have questioned these results.

Matt Barnum is a national education policy, policy and research reporter. Contact him at mbarnum@chalkbeat.org.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site about educational changes in public schools.

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