By Celine Klosterman
CLINTON — Prince of Peace Schools will offer tuition-free kindergarten for parishioners beginning next year, thanks to a Prince of Peace Parish effort to further support Catholic education and increase school enrollment.
The move is the first step toward what parish and school leaders hope will eventually be a tuition-free, Catholic-school education for parishioners from kindergarten to 12th grade.
“It’s a way for parishioners to see that Catholic education is a long-term investment for our parish,” Principal Nancy Peart said. “Keeping our families strongly invested in faith development is critically important.”
To enroll a kindergartener for free, parish families must sign a covenant to attend Mass on weekends and holy days of obligation, teach Catholicism as a family, get involved in a parish ministry, work toward giving 5 percent of their income to the parish, and cooperate with school teachers and staff. Father Ken Kuntz, pastor of the Clinton parish since July, said parishioners’ fulfillment of that agreement is “between them and God.”
The priest considered eliminating tuition for parishioners after noticing enrollment in Prince of Peace Academy and College Preparatory dropped from 244 in fall 2009 to 219 in fall 2010. “We have a wonderful school, but too many empty seats, in my opinion,” he said. “My concern was how can we get more kids into our school?”
For some parish families, one of the biggest obstacles is the expense of tuition, said Karen Witt, development director for Prince of Peace Academy and College Preparatory. In a summer 2010 survey, “cost” was the top reason parishioners with elementary and high school students cited as to why those students don’t attend Prince of Peace.
Witt noted financial aid can lessen that burden; tuition starts at $2,182 for a parish student in first through eighth grade next year and $3,231 for a parishioner in high school. But she said Prince of Peace’s new effort will remove remaining financial barriers. “It’s a wonderful blessing for families to have this opportunity.”
To make up for lost tuition income, the parish will increase its subsidy to Prince of Peace Schools. That annual subsidy is now about $500,000 — more than 50 percent of annual offertory income, Fr. Kuntz said.
He hopes Prince of Peace will be able to eliminate tuition for one grade per year for the next 13 years. “Our parish has 1,700 families,” he said. “If 70 percent of those people gave 5 percent of the median income in Clinton, we could have a tuition-free school now. We’re not promoting something that doesn’t have a chance of being effective. But it will take time.”
He also noted that 76 non-parishioners are currently enrolled in Prince of Peace Schools, suggesting some tuition income will continue to come in even if tuition is eliminated for parishioners.
At least one parish family has decided to send a student to Prince of Peace Academy thanks largely to the prospect of free tuition. Angela Broadrick said she and her husband, who is a police officer in Camanche, were debating whether to enroll their daughter Lucy in kindergarten at Camanche Elementary or Prince of Peace next year. When the couple heard of plans for free kindergarten for Catholics who sign a covenant with the parish, “that put us over the edge.”
“What a blessing,” said Broadrick, who also has a 1-year-old daughter, Annie. “The more help we can get, the better.”
Pam Deluhery said she would have sent her son, Billy, to kindergarten at Prince of Peace next year even without free tuition, but is grateful for the parishioner covenant. “I think it’s a wonderful way to get families active in our parish. If we can get more people coming to church on a regular basis and taking part in ministries, it can really strengthen us.”
Fr. Kuntz said Prince of Peace’s “leap of faith” reflects the results of a survey showing most parishioners believe supporting a Catholic school is an important part of the parish’s mission. “If parishioners are practicing stewardship, they shouldn’t have to pay tuition because we look at it as our mission to provide Catholic education — much as parishes did when they were founded in this country,” he said.
“Every year, we feel a strong parish commitment to the school, and this demonstrates that dedication again,” Peart said. “It’s delightful to have this sense of community with our parish.”