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Tuition reductions draw new students

Nine Omaha-area Catholic elementary schools offer Welcome Tuition Grants to transfer students
Delivering quality, faith-filled education to more children while increasing enrollment and strengthening Catholic schools are the goals of a tuition reduction program nine Omaha-area schools are offering for students who transfer from public, private or home schools.
Announced by the archdiocese July 28, the program called Welcome Tuition Grants consists of offering a tuition reduction of $1,000 for the 2015-2016 academic year – a 30 to 40 percent discount – and $500 for the 2016-2017 school year.
Parents have until Aug. 21 to apply for the grants, which will be awarded first come, first served. Families with students transferring into first through seventh grades will be eligible, with participating schools offering a predetermined number of grants in specific grade levels.
Schools involved are Mary Our Queen, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Bernard, St. Pius X-St. Leo, St. Thomas More and St. Joan of Arc, all in Omaha; St. Gerald in Ralston and St. Mary and St. Matthew in Bellevue.
Advertising for the program will include newspaper and radio ads, yard signs, direct mail, social media, email blasts, announcements at Omaha Storm Chasers games at Werner Park in Papillion, notices in parish bulletins and details on a website developed as part of a two-year marketing effort for archdiocesan schools, 
But it’s already catching on. 
Trish Wallinger, principal at St. Mary School, said she and her staff began talking with families about a possible tuition grant program early in July, and encouraged by the final package, at least three families from the Bellevue area plan to bring a total of five students into the school this fall.
One family had been schooling two children at home and the other families had their children in public schools, St. Mary officials said.
“This is a way to reach out to families that might benefit from a Catholic education,” and its emphasis on building faith, confidence and acceptance, as well as strong academics, Wallinger said. “We want to help more families join the Catholic school family.”
And the schools and parishes that support the grants will be filling seats that otherwise might remain empty, they won’t face any increased costs, and they will benefit from new families paying a portion of tuition, said Patrick Slattery, superintendent of schools.
In the first year of a program that charges $2,500, “that’s still $1,500 the school otherwise would not have,” Slattery said.
Those families also are likely to appreciate the benefits of a Catholic education and keep their children in the schools beyond the two-year program, he said.
That has been the case in the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., which began a similar effort for its elementary and high schools in the 2011-2012 school year, Slattery said. Ten schools participated that year, there were 67 transfers and 95 percent of those students remained in their new Catholic school for a second year, even though the pilot program gave a one-year financial grant.
The next year, the diocese increased the grants to two years and extended the voluntary program across the diocese, drawing 426 students into Catholic schools; the second year of the rollout, there were 473 transfers.
The Archdiocese of Omaha program also is voluntary, and nine schools decided to try it, Slattery said. If successful, it could expand to other schools, perhaps next year, he said.
All families at those schools and parishes should benefit, including families that long have made the commitment to send their children to Catholic school, because the schools’ financial security will grow with higher enrollment, potentially impacting the amount parishes contribute to those schools as well as tuition increases, and allowing schools to strengthen programs, he said.

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