(Photo by Unsplash)
(Photo by Unsplash)

The devastating impacts of COVID-19 on Catholic schools in New York State will require “continued and expanded state support” to remedy the financial stress on many schools and families.

That was the testimony of James D. Cultrara, director for education for the New York State Catholic Conference (NYSCC) and executive secretary for the NYS Council of Catholic School Superintendents, at an Elementary Education Joint Budget Hearing on Jan. 28. The testimony summarized the  superintendents’ recommendations for the 2021-22 Elementary and Secondary Education Budget.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused and continues to cause enormous financial hardship to the state’s Catholic schools,” Cultrara wrote in his testimony. “The financial hardship did not end with the close of the last school year. Re-registrations for the fall were dramatically lower, leaving administrators unsure of whether they could survive the next school year.’

Cultrara submitted a written testimony (available on the NYSCC website) to the Assembly and testified live at the virtual Zoom legislative hearing.
To ensure Catholic schools are sustainable for the 2021-22 year, Cultrara listed a number of areas that benefit from continued state support: Mandated Services Aid; educational programs such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); Academic Intervention Services (AIS); and health, safety and security equipment. He also pushed for assistance for tuition-paying families.

While some Albany Diocesan schools (such as St. Mary’s in Waterford and Catholic Central High School in Troy) saw an increase in enrollment from families interested in smaller classrooms and a choice between in-person or remote learning during the pandemic, others schools downstate didn’t fare so well. More than 30 Catholic schools across the state were forced to permanently close in June of 2020, two-thirds of which were in New York City.

Coupled with less tuition from declining enrollment, Cultrara added Catholic schools were also left to bear the unanticipated costs from preventing the spread of COVID-19, which included: hiring additional nurses, installing physical barriers, purchasing personal protective equipment, acquiring cleaning supplies, arranging for ongoing sanitization throughout and between school days, installing air purification equipment, and purchasing training technology related to remote learning and more.

Even with funding from a recent $900 billion COVID-19 federal relief bill — with $2.75 billion in relief allocated for religious and private schools — schools are still coming up short. When divided out, the government funding covers approximately $625 per pupil in Catholic schools, while the estimated cost thus far ranges between $1,000 to $5,000 per pupil.