Covid and education: enrollment in Catholic schools is increasing

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A student wearing a protective mask attends class on the first day of school amid the coronavirus pandemic at St. Lawrence Catholic School in North Miami Beach, Florida on August 18, 2021. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

According to the National Catholic Educational Association’s latest annual report, enrollment in Catholic K-12 schools increased nearly 4% for the 2021-2022 school year, the largest increase in enrollment ever seen by the NCEA. This is the first increase in enrollment in Catholic schools in 20 years.

In the 2020-2021 school year, Catholic schools reported 1.62 million student enrollment, which increased to 1.68 million this year. The 2020 numbers were down from previous school years, when U.S. Catholic schools had 1.73 students enrolled.

As the the wall street journal Editorial Board noted last week that much of the increase is likely attributable to Catholic schools doing all they can to remain open for in-person learning despite the Covid-19 pandemic, unlike public schools across the country. “Imagine this: stay open to teach kids, and they will come, the editorial joked.

the WSJ pointed out that, in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, where I live, all diocesan schools were open for in-person or hybrid learning at the start of the 2020 school year and saw a 7% increase in enrollment .

The NCEA report attributes much of the gain to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying around 40,000 of new enrollments nationwide appear to have been the result of pandemic-related school closures. The increase in enrollment helped prevent the kind of decline that Catholic schools have seen in recent years, with the number of closed or consolidated schools falling to 71 from 100 the previous year.

By comparison, public school enrollment across the country has fallen 3% for the 2021-2022 school years. School choice appears to be a significant factor in increasing enrollment in Catholic schools: About one-fifth of Catholic schools nationwide use some form of school choice program.

Perhaps most interestingly, the NCEA report found that almost all of the gains in schooling came from elementary school children. Enrollment in Catholic secondary schools fell slightly, while enrollment in elementary schools increased by almost 6%. Much of this increase comes from a huge increase in preschool enrollment.

the WSJ The editorial board speculates that some of the interest in Catholic schools may also have been the result of unpopular progressive policies in public schools:

the [NCEA] report does not say this, but we wonder if many parents’ discovery of widespread, union-led political indoctrination in public schools has also helped Catholic schools. The voter recall of three San Francisco school board members this week showed that even liberals are revolting against radical progressivism in K-12 education. The solution is more education choices, whether in public charter schools, or secular or religious private schools.

As progressives across the country continue to insist parents have no place in the classroom, it’s no wonder American families are turning to schools that not only stay open , but which value the contribution of parents in the education of their children. In my own Catholic middle school and high school here in Virginia, one of the main school mottos was that parents are the primary educators of their children. Hopefully the past few years have made more parents aware and passionate about this fact.

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