Annual “Share in the Spirit” collection helps families afford Catholic education.

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Wilmington, DE- Parishioners of Catholic parishes in Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore will have the opportunity to show their support for Catholic education during the fifth annual “Share in the Spirit” tuition assistance collection on September 26 and 27, 2009. Contributions to the collection, combined with funds from the diocesan Vision for the Future education trust, enable the diocese to open the doors of its elementary and secondary schools to parents who desire a Catholic education for their children but who cannot afford the full cost of tuition.

“A Catholic education should not be available for only those families who can afford it. Rather, it should be in reach to any parent whose desire is to place their child in a learning environment where Jesus is the center of all that they do,” says Ms. Deborah Fols, director of the diocese’s Development Office, which administers the tuition assistance program.

Last year, gifts to the diocesan collection totaled $199,749 – representing a near 21 percent drop in contributions from the previous year. However, because the recession has made it increasingly difficult for many families to afford a Catholic education, the diocese has increased the amount allocated for tuition assistance for the 2009-20210 school year, awarding $800,000 to 482 students.

“That’s the good news,” says Ms. Fols. “While this support is significant, applications were received from more than 1,000 families totaling 1,616 students. Unfortunately, there was not enough money available to help everyone.”

The Private School Aid Service, which analyzes the aid applications for the Development Office, determined that it would have required more than $4.3 million in assistance to meet the needs of all qualifying families.

For the 2008-2009 school year, the diocese provided $590,000 in aid to 427 students. Aid requests were received from the families of 1,451 students, and overall need was calculated at $3.6 million, the Development Office said.

“The number of families seeking financial aid for education has been rising every year. The cost of education is increasing too, and the resources of many families have been stretched to their limit,” Bishop W. Francis Malooly said. “Our challenge in these turbulent times is to provide a Catholic education to every child who desires one.”

Even in this difficult economy, diocesan schools represent an excellent value, delivering a high-quality, faith-filled education at moderate cost, says Catherine Weaver, diocesan superintendent of schools.

“Our standards are high and our schools have been very successful in helping students develop their God-given potential at every level — preparing for high school, preparing for college, and preparing for life,” Weaver says.

Noting that diocesan averages on standardized achievement tests consistently surpass national norms, Weaver says that “even with the growth of charter schools and increased choices in public and private schools, we feel that the quality of a Catholic education stacks up well in every way.”

“Catholic schools are worth the investment — not only for parents but also for everyone who cares about the quality of education and the future of our children. The more students we are able to serve, the stronger our Catholic schools become,” she says. In an effort to increase stability throughout the diocesan system, she adds, schools have increased their strategic planning efforts and have begun using a standardized financial data sheet to chart revenue and expense trends.

The diocese launched the “Share in the Spirit” collection in 2005 in recognition of the increasing need for tuition assistance. To date, the collection has raised nearly $922,000.

The diocese and its parishes operate 27 schools, serving pre-kindergarten through high school, in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. There are also eight independent Catholic schools in the diocese. The 35 schools enroll nearly 12,000 students.