Bishop’s column: Need for Catholic school scholarships greater than ever

Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, Newport News, sends its Blue Team to the First LEGO League Robotics state competition in December 2023. (Photo/submitted by Sarah Weischedel)

One of the most important components of the Church’s mission is our Catholic schools. Through the 30 Catholic elementary and high schools in the diocese, we are reaching young people in a significant way – not only in providing a strong academic foundation, but through faith formation that permeates all that we teach.

Last fall, we had a successful Learn to Lead special collection as part of a larger capital campaign for our Catholic schools. This collection not only provided much-needed support for our schools, but it elevated awareness of the schools’ value. I am grateful to everyone who, beyond the assessment from our offertory, contributed their support for our Catholic schools. That collection rounded out a quiet, several-year campaign to raise funds for our schools, many of which conducted their own campaigns and some of which are still doing so.

One of the benefits we received from the campaign came in the form of significant gifts that are supporting Virginia’s Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits (EISTC) program. Through this program, donations to approved foundations provide scholarships for students from low-income families at non-public, i.e., Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, private schools.

Individual or business donors receive a 65% tax credit for their contributions. Our diocese’s McMahon Parater Scholarship Foundation, approved by the Virginia Department of Education to receive donations under this program, distributed EISTC scholarships to 1,470 qualifying students during the 2022-2023 school year.

In 2023, we had great success in the EISTC program because we received a generous business donation of $10 million that helped support independent and diocesan Catholic schools for two years. As intended, those funds were used to fund scholarships. While that money has been distributed, the need for scholarships remains greater than ever.

Despite multiple efforts to generate financial support, there are still schools in our diocese that struggle with enrollment and financial resources. They will continue to do so as the costs associated with the educational apostolate escalate. It’s just a fact that with inflation, it is harder to carry out our work in the classroom. Yet, we will do all we can to fortify this critical element in the Church’s mission.

We will continue to encourage individuals and businesses to consider supporting Catholic school education through the EISTC program as a way of supporting Catholic education while benefiting from tax credits. The specific requirements for contributions can be explained by the McMahon Parater Scholarship Foundation (www.richmonddiocese.org/eistc/ or by calling 804-622-5190).

The EISTC program is scheduled to sunset in 2028. It is one of those matters that is raised in each of the Commonwealth’s legislative sessions by those who do not see school choice as helpful and valuable in the education we provide. Thus, we will continue to advocate for this important component of education that provides tangible support for those who have need in our Catholic schools.

Our Learn to Lead campaign was successful and is supporting our efforts in Catholic education, but the need is ongoing and even much greater than the resources the campaign provided. We will continue to seek the help of all who are willing to support the treasure that is our Catholic schools.

As we begin our observance of Catholic Schools Week this Sunday, I am grateful not only for all who have supported our Catholic schools by enrollment, presence and financial gifts, but especially for our pastors, administrators, teachers and parents who are the heart of our schools. May God continue to bless you for your care of and service to our children.

 

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