The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has reached a deal to have a private foundation manage more than 20 of its schools, in what church officials in the city are calling a "first-of-its-kind" arrangement.
Catholic schools in Philadelphia and other major cities have struggled mightily with their finances over the years, and many have shut their doors. Enrollment in Philly's archdiocese has dwindled to 68,000 students, from 250,000 in 1961. The new model of oversight—described as an "independently managed Catholic school system"—would appear to represent one of the most dramatic efforts to date by the church's schools to stem losses of enrollment and funding through a reworking how those schools are operated.
Under the agreement, an organization called the Faith in the Future Foundation will take operational management and leadership of 17 Catholic secondary schools and four schools focused on special education from the archdiocese on Sept. 1. The foundation will focus on areas such as fundraising, marketing the schools, managing enrollment, and developing "best practices in leadership and education," according to a statement released by the archdiocese on Tuesday. The foundation, working closely with the archdiocese, will also provide support to certain other Catholic schools, including grade schools.
"Today's agreement between the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Faith in the Future Foundation is unlike any agreement that a diocese has achieved with its lay leadership," said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in a statement. "The willingness of lay leaders with a love for Catholic education to step forward is encouraging. ... We have seen the momentum that the foundation has been able to generate, and we are confident that this agreement will lead to an even stronger school system for the children of the Philadelphia region."
H. Edward Hanway, the chairman of the Faith in the Future Foundation, and a former chief executive officer of CIGNA Corporation, is serving as the Foundation's interim CEO. Foundation officials say they are currently assemblying an executive team to manage the schools.
The National Catholic Educational Association tells Education Week that it does not know of any similar arrangements between an archdiocese and a private foundation to manage a network of schools.
"This seems like a creative way of ensuring that Catholic secondary schools thrive and continue to grow in the future because it allows for systematic and continued planning," said Philip V. Robey, executive director of the association's secondary department, in an e-mail.