Voucher program breathes new life into Catholic schools

.- Washington’s Catholic schools are growing as the result of a new federal voucher program that provides low-income students with grants that they can use toward tuition at private or faith-based schools. The program, currently running in the District of Columbia, gives parents the choice to enroll their children in schools other than their local failing public schools.

The program has been a boon for more than a dozen of Washington’s Catholic elementary schools, which were slated for closure after three decades of decline, reported the Washington Post.

Of the 983 students in the voucher program, 61 percent have reportedly enrolled in Catholic schools. The percentage is expected to remain the same when the program expands to 1,600 students in September.

St. Benedict the Moor in Northeast Washington is one Catholic school that has benefitted from the voucher program. From February 2003 to June 2004, St. Benedict's enrollment dropped from 150 to 110. With the launch of the voucher program in September 2004, enrollment rose to 165. The school expects to reach its capacity of 200 students over the next few years.

Education analysts say parents in the voucher program are choosing Catholic schools because their tuition is less than the program’s $7,500 maximum allotment — elite private schools are much more expensive — and because of proximity — several Catholic schools are located in low-income neighborhoods.

Parents of voucher students attending Catholic schools told the newspaper that they like the schools' moral values, discipline and structure.

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