State-funded preschools help boost Catholic school enrollment

A kindergarten student at All Saints Catholic School in Davenport sorts shapes and colors during a class porject. All Saints saw an increase of 37 students for the 2008-09 school year compared to a year earlier.

By Anne Marie Amacher

Catholic school enrollment in the southern part of the Diocese of Davenport has been harder hit by the economy and its fallout while enrollment at Catholic schools in Davenport increased.

Overall, enrollment increased for the 2008-09 school year — mostly because of state funding for Iowa children to attend preschool for free, said Mary Wieser, superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese.

And the enrollment losses that did occur in the elementary and secondary schools were not as bad as in the past. At the secondary level, the loss was just two students among the five junior/senior or senior high schools in the diocese. At the elementary/middle school level, enrollment declined by 46 students.

St. Mary Catholic School in Centerville closed, which meant a loss of 31 students for the current school year. Bishop Hayes Catholic School in Muscatine is down 30 students in the K-5 program and 22 students in the preschool program. “There have been layoffs, companies closing or on strike,” Wieser explained.


In addition to job losses, a decline in the Catholic population and overall population throughout Iowa also factored into lower numbers at many Catholic schools.

Doris Turner, administrator for Holy Trinity Catholic Schools, which has various sites throughout Lee County, said a larger class than usual graduated from Holy Trinity Junior/Senior High School in 2008. The school had 16 fewer students this year — 192, compared with 208 last year. Turner noted that since the beginning of the school year two new sophomores and two new juniors have enrolled at Holy Trinity High School.

“The class sizes (K-12) are generally getting smaller due to the fact that there are fewer families that are Catholic as well as the fact that Catholic families are having fewer children. Iowa reflects the national trend,” Turner said. Holy Trinity’s West Point (K-6) campus reported 161 students for the current school year, compared with 181 last year. Its kindergarten at the Early Childhood Center in Fort Madison has 14 students this year, compared with 16 last year.

She noted that Holy Trinity is keeping a large share of its students and showing smaller enrollment losses over the years compared to public school districts.

Holy Trinity became a merged Catholic system to remain an excellent educational opportunity for families interested in a Gospel-based learning atmosphere, she added. 

“Our new development office is broadening our support base and our school system’s excellent reputation is helping it to attract new students. We are excited about our future.”

Christine Meyer, principal at St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt, said a larger eighth-grade class graduated in May and the incoming kindergarten numbers are lower. Public school kindergarten enrollment also is down in DeWitt, she noted. Enrollment this year at St. Joseph is 180, compared with 198 last year.

The Davenport Catholic schools of All Saints, John F. Kennedy, St. Paul the Apostle and Assumption High School all had gains — and by a dozen or more students this school year.

All Saints Catholic School in Davenport reported an increase of 37 students at the elementary level for a total of 373 students, and an additional 41 students at the preschool level for a total of 60 students.

Principal Tammy Conrad believes the increase is due to word getting out about a positive education experience at All Saints. Parents also are discovering through tuition assistance programs such as Embracing Our Future and School Tuition Organizations that Catholic education is affordable.

All Saints preschool saw a substantial increase in enrollment due to expansion of state grants for free preschool. All spots at All Saints were filled and a waiting list was established.

“We haven’t seen the economy affect us (hard) yet. We hope that it turns around and we

will look at sustaining our numbers for the 2009-2010 school year,” Conrad said. “Without the financial assistance, families would really struggle to send their children to ASCS and any of the Catholic schools.”

John F. Kennedy reported a total of 324 students in grades K-8, compared with 303 last year. St. Paul the Apostle reported 450 students in grades K-8, compared with 428 last year. Assumption High School reported 422 students in grades 9-12, compared with 410 last year.

Wieser attributes enrollment increases to the Family Tuition Plan for Scott County Catholic Schools. That plan is funded by the Embracing Our Future campaign and School Tuition Organization, which provide financial aid to families.

Wieser hoped donations to both the Mississippi Valley STO (Scott County Catholic schools) and the Southeast Iowa STO (non-Scott County Catholic schools) would help each STO reach its goal by the end of last year.

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