Families struggle with Catholic school tuition

Jose Miranda struggles to make tuition payments for his two kids who attend Chicago Catholic schools.

Three years ago, Miranda's wife died of breast cancer.  Then he fell off a telephone pole at work, permanently injuring his back, which led to him losing his job.

Since then, Miranda has not been able to find full-time work, he says.

Now, he's hoping an emergency effort by the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools will help him keep his kids in school.

The Chicago Archdiocese and the Big Shoulders Fund have created a $1 million emergency scholarship fund to help parents who have recently lost a job pay tuition.

Principals were recently asked to compile a list of parents who were let go from a job since the beginning of the school year.

So far, the 1,200 requests for help have far exceeded what the Archdiocese had expected, causing it to change the original amount given per student from up to $1,000 per student to $500. The money will be paid directly to the schools for tuition, says Ryan Blackburn, a spokesman for the Chicago Archdiocese.

The Archdiocese is offering about $650,000 to the emergency fund, while Big Shoulders, a local school charity, has contributed the remainder.

It’s hoped the fund will alleviate some of the hardships that families are encountering in a flagging economy. It will also help keep kids in Catholic schools, said Susan Burritt, spokesperson for the Chicago Archdiocese.

“There is no question that the schools are having difficulty collecting tuition,” Burritt says.

Miranda doesn’t exactly fit the eligibility profile -- he lost his primary job before August. But he's hoping officials will consider him anyway.

He owes more than $13,000 in tuition for his two kids, who attend Immaculate Conception School and St. Patrick High School.

He’s been paying about $50 a month to Immaculate Conception, which allows his daughter to continue attending as long as he can make some kind of payment.

“(The emergency fund money) will help," Miranda says. "As long as the school gets something from me, they’ll let me keep her there. I don’t want to pull her out of school.”

Immaculate Conception School Principal Bernadette Felicione says the school requested Archdiocese help for four families, including Miranda's.

Felicione says she hopes the Archdiocese program will help shore up declining enrollment.

Since September, eight kids have either not returned at the beginning of the school year or dropped out.

For a typical year, one or two kids might leave, she says.

“These families are struggling,” says Felicione. “One man’s wife had passed away and and he lost his job. In another situation, dad is sick and mom lost her job.”

At St. Patrick High School on Chicago's Northwest side, 44 familes have asked to be put on the emergency eligibility list, said Megan Ivers, the school's director of media relations.

At Resurrection High School also on Chicago's Northwest side, 25 families are on the list, says Kathleen Henghan, a Resurrection’s communciations coordinator.

“It’s basically they lost their job or their family business closed,” Henghan says. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary. It’s just the economy.”