Catholic Schools: Working together to remove barriers to Catholic education

By Father Mark Hamlet 
Guest Columnist

Sacred Heart Parish in East Austin has been aggressively promoting Catholic School education since late 2012. As of last month, 24 primary school children received assistance to attend the Cathedral School of St. Mary, and 17 teenagers received assistance to attend San Juan Diego Catholic High School.
Many of the families at Sacred Heart Parish are immigrants and the average household income is $40,000 or less. With the average cost of Catholic school tuition between $8,000 and $10,000 per student per year, many families simply cannot afford to send their children to Catholic schools. Sacred Heart Parish is attempting to remove the financial barriers to Catholic education by offering assistance to families whose children have been accepted to one of the two partnering schools: the Cathedral School of St. Mary and San Juan Diego Catholic High School.
Each month pulpit announcements at all Masses encourage families to bring letters of acceptance to one of the partnering schools to the parish office to seek support for their children. The schools make sure each family is aware of the full cost of Catholic education and as part of the application process, parents submit their financial documents to the schools. Each family’s needs for financial aid are assessed. The schools offer assistance, and each family contributes a portion of the cost of tuition. Then the parish assists the families with the remaining portion of their tuition and fees. Catholic education is not free to these families, and they have been able to contribute a total of almost $30,000. Each family pays according to their ability; however, no one has been turned away because of inability to pay.
In the 2014-15 school year, Sacred Heart Parish contributed $57,000 to tuition assistance, which averaged to be $1,500 per student. All support is confidential. 
Up to this point, the parish has been able to handle most of its contribution with funds from an endowment that was created prior to 2002 when Sacred Heart Catholic School closed. Beyond those funds, the parish is seeking additional contributions to continue to expand this opportunity, and a special fund has been created for tuition support. 
The parents of the Catholic school students meet as a group one Sunday afternoon each month. Common issues are discussed and solutions are sought together. Clergy members are present at these meetings, as well as directors of the partnering schools, and other Catholic school representatives. These meetings provide a strong sense of support for these families.
One of the most difficult aspects of this initiative is convincing parents to consider Catholic education for their children. The families of the children who do enter the program often report dramatically improved behavior and academic achievement soon after they begin Catholic schools.
Sacred Heart Parish and the partnering schools work together to make the pathway to Catholic education as smooth as possible. Currently, the primary obstacle remains adequate transportation to and from the school.
To contribute to this effort, write to the Sacred Heart Partnership School Fund at Sacred Heart Parish, 5909 Reicher Dr., Austin 78723 or call the parish at (512) 926-2552.