Friday, March 5, 2010

Wichita and Cristo Rey

Catholic educational institutions are here to stay for the middle and upper-class families who have considerable financial resources and fewer kids, thus enabling them to afford the sky-high tuition. Moreover, as long as public schools underperform and promote an ideological agenda, there will continue to be a market for parents looking for more educational options for their children. This leaves the question of what to do about the rest of the Catholic community that either does not earn enough money or opts to have a larger family and so cannot afford Catholic school. School vouchers would be a great boon to Catholic education, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them. The public school teachers' unions are too formidable a special interest group to let such a development occur; besides, the government always attaches strings to any handout, and these would inevitably come into conflict with Catholic teachings. Even without vouchers, however, there are still two business models that might offer a lifeline to Catholic schools in this country: Wichita’s Stewardship Model and the Cristo Rey Network.

The Wichita Diocese has a unique business model that allows all Catholic families to send their children to Catholic schools. The foundation of this thriving school system is the diocese’s commitment to a vibrant stewardship spirituality in each and every parish. As a business model, the bottom line is that each parish promotes a tithing agreement with its members that takes into account time, talent, and treasure as part of a complex equation for generating the necessary funds to run their school systems. Many articles tout the diocese as offering tuition-free schools, but this is not exactly true, strictly speaking. Yes, schools are tuition-free to Catholic pupils; however, every parent contributes financially through a parish tithe, so it’s a bit disingenuous to call it tuition-free.

Ultimately, the secret to Wichita’s success is the grassroots involvement of all the parishes on a diocesan-wide scale pooling their resources to make Catholic education a reality for their children. I love this model, but then again, I am comfortable with the tithing concept. I know many Catholics would flinch at such a financial sacrifice. It requires a great deal of soul-searching on the part of families who are being asked to tithe something like 8% of their income to send their fellow parishioners’ children to Catholic schools. In the final analysis, it IS a spirituality and not simply a business model. The diocese has a wealth of information on their stewardship spirituality and methodology that illuminates the difficulties and rewards of this approach. I encourage you to peruse this when you have the time.
The Cristo-Rey Network is the brainchild of Richard Murray who partnered with the Jesuits to found Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago in 1996. In the last decade, twenty-three more high schools modeled on the first have sprung up all over the country. Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory of Houston just opened its doors last fall, so we here in Houston are getting our first glimpse at the Cristo Rey educational model. The mission of the Cristo-Rey schools is “to prepare young people with limited options for college.” These schools aim to provide a first-class education to families that cannot afford the high tuition of many Catholic schools. Consider these remarkable statistics. The average family income is $35,682 for those participating in the Cristo-Rey Network. 95% of the 5900 students in the twenty-four Cristo Rey schools are minorities, and 96% go on to attend college. Wow!

So, what exactly is the secret recipe to this phenomenal success? Well, the schools operate on an apprenticeship model. Four students share an entry-level position at a local corporation with each working one day a week at the job. In return, the corporation pays a sizeable portion of the students’ tuition making it possible for them to attend the school. It’s a win-win situation for the corporation and the students. The corporation performs a good deed for the local community, receives good press, benefits from committed workers who may end up working for their organizations in the long-term, and presumably saves money on health-care and taxes. The students acquire business experience, develop skills and talents in fields they might not otherwise be interested in, and receive a first-class education at a significantly reduced cost. Like I said, it’s a win-win and explains the model's popularity.

The Diocese of Wichita's stewardship spirituality and tithing model and the Cristo Rey corporate apprenticeship program are bold initiatives to address the economic disparities within the Catholic community. They represent the future of Catholic education for minorities and the lower economic classes who could not otherwise afford a Catholic education. I feel very strongly that we should get behind these enterprises with our own time, talents, and treasure. In every age, the faithful find a way to communicate the deposit of the faith with the aid and grace of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let us pray that these efforts and others like them will continue to flourish in a rapidly changing world that might otherwise leave so many Catholic families out in the cold wanting a Catholic education for their children, but not being able to provide it.

No comments:

Post a Comment