Catholic schools: Challenges and opportunities Print
Our Catholic Schools
Thursday, May. 28, 2009 -- 12:00 AM
Our Catholic Schools by Michael Lancaster

This is the third and final in a series of articles that answer questions about Catholic schools.

Over the past few weeks I have written about the purpose of Catholic schools and their function in Church and in society.

I have also discussed the work of our Core Teams in identifying the challenges we face, and must answer, if our schools are to thrive into the future.

Today I would like to give you a glimpse of our schools and the great diversity that exists across them as each day the teachers, staff, and principals strive to witness the Gospel Truth and place our children firmly on the path to heaven.

Information on our schools

There are 46 Catholic schools in the 11-county Diocese of Madison.

Dane County has the most schools, 14, while Grant County comes in second with nine.

Of the 46 schools, one is a high school (grades nine to 12) and one combines middle and high school grades (six to 12). Both are located in Madison.

All the rest are elementary schools. One is operated by the Sinsinawa Dominicans while the other 43 are connected to parishes. We have no regional schools (schools that are broadly supported by several parishes in the region).

Costs of education

Each school that is connected with a parish receives, on average, 50 percent of its operating budget from the support of the parish. The parish often covers a substantial portion of the difference between the actual cost of education and the revenue generated by tuition.

The average cost of education in a parish elementary school is $3,894.

The average elementary school tuition in the diocese is $1,439.

By comparison, the national average cost of education at a Catholic elementary school is $5,870.

The national average for tuition in a Catholic elementary school is $3,159.

All parish elementary schools offer reduced tuition for multiple students from the same family.

All of the schools that charge tuition offer financial aid. Pastors work with all families in need so that their children may attend.

Teachers and principals

On average a beginning teacher or principal in a diocesan elementary school could earn a salary of 25 percent to 30 percent more and receive two to three times more in benefits (health insurance, retirement, etc.) by teaching in a public school.

There are over 600 teachers employed in Catholic schools in the diocese.

Currently, over 25 percent of our elementary schools have instituted a salary freeze for all principals, teachers, and staff given the economic recession.


Curriculum in all Catholic schools must meet diocesan curriculum standards. These are based on the State of Wisconsin Model Academic Standards. While we do not need to use the state standards, the fact of the matter is that over 95 percent of our elementary students enter the public school system in either middle school or high school where they will be expected to have met the state standards.

Elementary schools range in size from 38 students to nearly 500 students. Some have state–of-the-art science and technology labs, while others use borrowed equipment and used textbooks.

Despite this wide disparity, both in terms of numbers and resources, curriculum standards are met in all diocesan schools and graduates of all schools are well prepared for the next level of studies in their education.

This year, there are 7,925 students attending Catholic schools throughout the diocese. Projections for next year indicate decreases in some schools and increases in others. Considering the diocese as a whole, enrollment is projected to remain fairly steady.

The intangibles

Of course, the most important information about Catholic schools can’t be captured by any number or set of statistics.

How do you capture the growth of a student not only in knowledge of mind, but compassion and maturity of heart? How do you capture not only knowledge of English but love of the Word of God? How do you capture a child’s increasing awareness of and empathy for the plight of the disadvantaged in society that compels them to service in love of their neighbor?

How do you capture how their growth in faith and internalization of morals will help them make future decisions? How do you capture the dedication of the teachers, the commitment of the volunteers, the involvement of the parents?

How do you capture the sacrifice, the dedication and the love poured out for each student? How do you capture the difference that caring teachers and a community of faith will make on our students for the rest of their lives?

Nine years of Catholic elementary school . . . $18,000.

Growing in knowledge, faith, and love of Christ to transform this world and enter the next . . . Priceless.

As always, thank you for reading. May God bless you and your families.

Michael Lancaster is the Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Madison.