By SUSAN DUFFEY
For The Catholic Week
Imagine as a parent you have found the school you feel will give your children the best opportunity for success, providing not only a solid academic foundation, but a spiritual one as well. Then consider that instead, because of your financial situation, you must send your child to a school with fewer resources and no mention of God. The No. 1 reason parents cite for not enrolling their child in Catholic schools is the cost of tuition. They are unaware of tuition assistance available.
Catholic school tuition has risen significantly since the drastic decline in religious vocations began in the 1960s. As tuition rises, enrollment declines, causing further increases in per pupil cost. At present, schools in our diocese are operating at approximately 70 percent capacity. Pastors and principals constantly struggle to provide enough financial aid for students.
On Dec. 4, 2019, the Alabama Department of Revenue opened the door for more parents to choose a Catholic education for their children with the approval of a new scholarship granting organization (SGO) created for the sole purpose of providing tax credit scholarships for students enrolled in Archdiocese of Mobile Catholic Schools. Academics +, named to reflect the mission of Catholic Schools educating not just the mind, but the whole child will begin accepting donations in January and will issue scholarships for the 2020-21 school year. These scholarships grant full tuition and fees up to $8,000 per student per year to eligible students.
The Alabama Accountability Act was passed by the Alabama legislature in 2013 and the first scholarships were issued in 2014. Academics+ is the seventh SGO in the state. Many students in our Archdiocesan schools have already benefited from this legislation under the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund. Since 2014 more than $15,000,000 has been granted for student tuition in our Catholic schools. Currently approximately 300 students in our schools receive Alabama Opportunity scholarships, but there is potential to help many more. Opportunity scholarship donations are capped at $30 million per year. Last year’s donations fell short by $13.8 million. About $13.8 million in increased donations would provide a Catholic education for more than 200 students in our Catholic schools at no cost to the donor.
Academics + Scholarships will be awarded on a first come, first served basis in compliance with the Alabama Accountability Act. The AAA requires scholarship granting organizations to give priority to students in failing schools. In 2019, there were 17 failing public schools within the geographic region of our archdiocese. Students not zoned for failing schools may also receive scholarships, based on family income. Catholic schools and Academics + scholarships serve all children, there is no requirement to be Catholic. For the 2020 -21 school year family income guidelines are as follows.
In addition to helping families choose a Catholic education for their children, Academics + allows donors an avenue to give the gift of a Catholic education, a gift that will last a lifetime, to a child who might not otherwise experience the opportunities a Catholic education provides.
Catholic school students score significantly higher on standardized tests, graduate at a rate of 99 percent and are twice as likely to attend college. As adults, Catholic school graduates are more likely to remain active in their faith, engage in community service and answer the call of religious vocation. Catholic schools are vital to the mission of the Church, yet many parents are not aware of their value.
In Our Greatest and Best Inheritance: Catholic Schools and Parental Choice, the USCCB states:
“For nearly 150 years, the Church has unequivocally taught that parents have the right and responsibility to serve as the primary educators of their children. To assist them in this sacred duty, the Church has articulated clearly that children have the universal right to an education in faith, and the state has the fundamental obligation to enable such a right. In both written word and lived witness, the Church has advanced parental choice as a fundamental part of its mission to protect the equality of educational opportunity that is the birthright of all children.”
The Academics + Scholarship will allow families to choose an education of faith for their children and allow donors to increase their stewardship of Catholic schools. In addition, with enrollment of new students funded by opportunity scholarships, per pupil costs decrease and parish subsidies could be decreased or directed to strengthening school programs.
Individuals and corporations may donate up to one half of their Alabama income tax liability and receive a dollar-for dollar credit. Individuals are capped at $50,000 but there is no dollar limitation on corporate donations. Partnerships, LLC s and S-Corps may receive additional tax benefits under new IRS SALT rulings.
Student applications and donor resources are currently under development and will be available in late January. Students must apply to the school of their choice for enrollment and complete an application for scholarship to Academics +.
Schools accept students based on their usual enrollment criteria and do not have input into which students receive scholarships.
Donors will designate Academics + on the My Alabama Taxes website as the recipient for their tax credit and cannot designate a particular Catholic school or student, but can be assured their donation will be directed towards a student in an Archdiocese of Mobile Catholic School.
— For further information contact Executive Director Julie-Emory Johnson at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-706-7801.