Catholic schools in Central Florida have been growing, bucking the national trend of declining Catholic school enrollment.
That news has won the Orlando diocese praise during the National Catholic Education Association convention in Orlando this week. The diocese also got a boost from the announcement that the University of Notre Dame will work with four urban Catholic schools in Central Florida to help them grow and improve.
The 42 schools in the diocese have added about 600 students in the past three years. Nationwide, Catholic schools have lost about 31,000 students in the past year, the smallest loss in a decade.
The Diocese of Orlando serves 14,213 students in eight counties. Nearly three-quarters of the schools are elementaries or K-8s.
“There’s a desire here for Catholic schools,” said Brother Robert Bimonte, president of the National Catholic Education Association.
About 1.9 million students are enrolled in Catholic schools nationwide. The pockets of growth are centered in the South and Southwest, Bimonte said.
“As people have moved to the South, which is not a traditional Catholic area, they sought Catholic schools,” Bimonte said.
Families moving from Northern states have brought some new students, said Jacquelyn Flanigan, associate superintendent of Catholic schools for the Orlando diocese. But most of the growth has been home-grown, particularly among black, Hispanic and non-Catholic students. Hundreds of new students use state vouchers to pay tuition.
“We’re seeing diversity grow,” said Flanigan, who said broadening access to Catholic schools is “a social justice issue.” More parents “have the opportunity to bring their children to a high-quality education they might not otherwise have had.”