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Future of Catholic schools tied to fate of the middle class

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Today's young families can barely survive on what they make. This puts private education out of their reach and like all things these days available only to the wealthy.

I am currently midyear teaching at the fifth faith based school in my 20 year teaching career. I am afraid this year might be my last. Not because I don't love my job, the staff and the children we educate, but because we are struggling to survive. The first three parochial schools I taught at are now closed, one remains open and my current job at a Christian school is melting before my eyes.

Faith based schools are disappearing in our city and my guess is throughout the country. As a parent, I chose parochial school for my children because I wanted them in a learning environment that took time to emphasize the moral lessons we taught at home. I wanted them educated in their neighborhood. I also wanted more flexibility in their curriculum than "teaching to the test" which is what the MCAS testing has done to education.

The problem is not the quality of education delivered, nor the dedication of teachers. It is part of the vanishing iceberg that the middle class has found itself adrift on. Health care costs, food, utilities are all rising. Salaries are not. Many full time positions have been cut to part time to save companies the cost of health insurance, vacation and sick time for their employees. People are working more hours for less. Today's young families can barely survive on what they make. This puts private education out of their reach and like all things these days available only to the wealthy.

In all the rhetoric and the call to put God back into daily American life the biggest piece of the puzzle is overlooked. Twenty years ago a middle class family could afford to put their children through faith based schools right through to college. Today's families struggle to pay the bills. Statistics show the average Catholic elementary school tuition (Kindergarten through 8th grade) has climbed 69 percent over the past 10 years. At Catholic high schools, it's about double that at 136 percent. According to the National Catholic Education Association, the average Catholic elementary school tuition last year was $3,673; the average Catholic secondary freshman tuition is $9,622, sending faith based schools enrollment into a downward spiral for the last decade.

Unfortunately, this trend has no hope of reversing itself unless there is a shift back to enriching the lives of the middle class. I for one am saddened by the loss of this option for future generations.

CHERYL MURPHY IS DIRECTOR OF THE MENINO ARTS CENTER IN HYDE PARK. SHE TAUGHT IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS FOR NEARLY 20 YEARS.

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