Which Philadelphia Funder Thinks Catholic Schools are Better Than Charter Schools?

Charter schools are on the rise, while enrollment in Catholic schools is plummeting. A recent study in New York revealed that transfers to charter schools accounts for 37% of that decline, pulling more than 32,000 students away from the Catholic school system. Education trends in Philadelphia are startlingly similar, although one local foundation is sticking up for its favorite parish elementary and secondary schools.

The Connelly Foundation, heavily rooted in Catholic giving traditions, recently announced a $30,000 grant for Our Mother Consolation (OMC) School in Philadelphia's Chestnut Hill neighborhood. OMC is going to use Connelly's money to expand its pre-Kindergarten program and re-market the school to attract prospective families in the community. To keep Catholic education alive, the foundation's target group is getting younger and younger. (Read Connelly Foundation: Philadelphia Grants).

If you're remotely familiar with the city, you know that Chestnut Hill is one of the most affluent areas of Philadelphia. Considering most of parishioners live in the neighborhood, why does such a school even need outside assistance?

Although secularism, demographics, and priest sex abuse scandals have contributed to the decline of Catholic school enrollment, cost remains the biggest factor. The cost of a grade school education at OMC is $5,050 per child, a portion of which is subsidized for active Catholic parishioners. Believe it or not, preschool tuition is often even higher, depending on age and the number of days attending.

Connelly regularly awards grants, like this one to OMC, to draw families back to the “safe, spiritual, and academically rigorous environment that parochial schools provide.” A whopping 59% ($5,431,207) of the foundation's 2012 grantmaking budget went towards education, but charter schools were left out in the cold. Connelly simply doesn't fund charter schools. But not to worry, there are plenty of other foundations making charter schools a priority along the eastern seaboard.

Connelly's $30,000 grant to OMC was promptly shown up by a $100,000 grant from the Maguire Foundation. The school, which was recommended for closure or consolidation in 2012, is chipping away at its $1 million fundraising goal to make those tuition fees a little easier to swallow. OMC's director of advancement boasts about more than a hundred families (i.e. potential customers) visiting the school last year. But will the Connelly and Maguire grants be enough to entice families to choose Catholic over charter? Or is the era of Catholic education coming to a slow, inevitable halt regardless?