Transfer tuition grants continue to draw students

They live close to St. Matthew the Evangelist School in Bellevue, wanted a private rather than public school, and hoped that faith would be part of the education experience.

And after a promising tour, the Archdiocese of Omaha’s $1,500 Welcome Tuition Grant program sealed the deal for her and her son, said Andrea Bachman of Bellevue, mother of fifth-grader Julian, who attended a public school last year.

"St. Matthew is a good fit," Bachman said. "I was happy with what I was seeing. Then (Principal James Daro Jr.) spoke to me about the transfer grant and I thought, ‘it’s meant to be.’"

Julian is one of five students attending St. Matthew under the Welcome Tuition Grant program, which expanded this year from a 2015-2016 pilot effort – from St. Matthew and eight other Omaha-area elementary schools to 12 more elementary schools in Omaha, Ralston, Bellevue, Columbus, Fremont, Lindsay, Norfolk and South Sioux City.

With the added schools, the number of participating students also has grown, with a total of 179 first-year grants issued this year, compared to 43 last year.

"It’s been a great way for us to welcome students into the schools," said Tricia Olsen of the Catholic Schools Office.

Under the program, students entering first through seventh grades from public, private or home schools are eligible for a $1,000 tuition grant the first year – a 30 to 40 percent discount – and $500 the following year.

It’s working well at St. Matthew, Daro said. Some families considering a Catholic school ask for tours after learning about the tuition grants, others come to look and are told about the opportunity, he said.

Patrick Slattery, superintendent of archdiocesan schools, said while tuition grants might appear to be a loss of money, the tuition that families pay under the grants is more than schools would take in with empty seats.

Many parishes also benefit, because they run or support Catholic schools – and full schools mean more families paying tuition, with less cost and more opportunity for parishes to support other ministries, Slattery said.

"To me, this is more than just a Catholic school enrollment story," he said. "It helps parishes as a whole. They can be stronger and more effective."

Bachman said she likes having her son in religion class, learning more about the faith and being encouraged to pray. Catholic schools also offer students discipline and structure that some schools lack, she said.

"I am accustomed to structure and respect and values," Bachman said. "And I feel the church will really help him with that, as well."

As for Julian, his new school appeared to be a good fit recently as he studied in class and ran around with friends during recess, playing catch with a paper airplane and shooting baskets.

Asked how he likes St. Matthew, his answer was simple – and delivered with a smile.

"It’s good," he said.


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