CLEVELAND — One Catholic school in the Diocese of Cleveland has been saved from closure through next school year, while another, in Akron, will still close at the end of the current school year.
The Diocese of Cleveland said thanks to anonymous benefactors, St. Thomas Aquinas will no longer have to close at the end of the school year. But the superintendent of schools, Frank O’Linn, said Ohio’s Catholic schools are having trouble making ends meet.
“St. Thomas Aquinas is facing some of the headwinds that are not uncommon in Catholic schools and non-public schools,” O’Linn said.
The Diocese of Cleveland is currently made up of 108 schools that serve nearly 40,000 students in Northeast Ohio. O’Linn cited changing population demographics, rising costs and lower enrollment as contributing factors to the decline of Catholic education.
“We’re trying to be as creative as possible, but there are times when all of our creativity and all of our support can’t overcome those challenges,” O’Linn said.
He said the tuition families pay, or the money that voucher programs like EdChoice contribute, doesn’t come close to the cost to educate at Catholic schools.
“It takes the generosity of the church, of parishes or of philanthropy to keep Catholic schools viable,” O’Linn said.
O’Linn said closures aren’t uncommon for the Diocese, looking back at the last several decades. A spokesperson for the Diocese said two elementary schools have closed in the last two years: The Academy of St. Adalbert in Berea and St. Paul, an elementary school in Akron.
“However, we don’t feel that that is our destiny,” O’Linn said. “We feel like the system can be strengthened, and that’s our plan for the future is to collaborate and to create a structure that strengthens the system and keeps this choice available for families here in the Diocese of Cleveland.”
For now, O’Linn and other Dioceses across Ohio are urging lawmakers to find solutions to fix EdChoice and make sure Ohio families don’t have to deal with the fallout of a changing program.
“We stand together with our public counterparts, our charter counterparts, our independent counterparts in educating the families of Ohio,” O’Linn said. “We believe that a strong ecosystem of schools for Ohio families is what is going to benefit Ohioans the most.”
In a statement, Ohio’s Catholic Conference of Bishops wrote,
“Catholic Conference Response to EdChoice Delay Legislative delays in finalizing the EdChoice Scholarship Program for the coming school year cause us grave concern. The Catholic Conference of Ohio urges Ohio legislators to go back to the table NOW to finalize the EdChoice Program for the 2020/2021 school year. Parents need to decide where to enroll their children in school. Schools need to make decisions about teachers’ contracts and budgets. Every day that goes by makes the situation more difficult for everyone. We believe that parents are the primary educators of their children. They have the right to choose the education that best meets their children’s needs, and public authorities have a duty to ensure the conditions that make this choice real. Catholic schools have long provided a vibrant, values-based education focused on forming the whole person. Ohio has long benefited by the education young people receive in Catholic schools. The EdChoice Scholarship Program helps make this educational option possible for children of diverse backgrounds and economic means. For their good and for the good of our society, the EdChoice program should be continued and strengthened. We ask the General Assembly to give families and schools this assurance by returning to negotiations immediately.”