School, both government mandated and Catholic faith formation through CCD classes, is now in session. In America, children wake up, get ready for the day, and head out the door. They wait for the big yellow school bus to take them to several hours of learning and socializing. After school, children’s days are filled with activities: soccer, basketball, baseball, swimming, art, dance, tutoring…you name it!
The question is, where does CCD and Catholic faith formation fit in all this, and is it worth the cost? Rising prices means sacrificing so a child can attend CCD, and today’s parents are questioning the expense of educating a child in Catholicism. I contacted a diocesan leader from a large Midwestern diocese with both large and small parishes to find out more about CCD spending and costs.
Where Does the Money for Catholic Education Go?
Tuition varies widely depending on demographics, income levels, and other factors, but one thing is certain – educating a child takes money. Programs are generally run by directors of religious education (DRE) who require a salary, but additional paid staff are often needed. These people compose letters to families, parishioners, and the diocese. They keep records of sacraments and grades. They update files with everything from who is allowed to pick a child up and emergency contacts to allergy concerns and medications needed. Records also need to be kept on catechists and on their training including Safe Environment and faith formation. Adult staff need background checks, and teachers and students both need attendance records. All this must be compiled into databases and submitted to the diocese.
Other costs are standard for any school program. Heating, cooling, electricity, and building maintenance take a big chunks out of program budgets. Many CCD facilities are older Catholic school buildings. Some are vacant during the day but need to be maintained to allow staff to work and to feel welcoming to children when they come. When you consider the expense of maintaining a home, you can only begin to realize the cost of maintaining a CCD building.
Additional expenses include textbooks and expendables like workbooks, stipends for speakers and additional priests who help with activities such as Reconciliation – especially during holiday seasons – Sacramental prep, certificates, and retreat leaders. Little things add up!
The Salary of the Director of Religious Education
It would be nice to have a fully volunteer staff. It seems that would be the most Christian way to work, but reality is finding volunteers to teach classes is difficult enough. Finding a volunteer DRE to run an entire CCD program would be almost impossible. DRE’s work a minimum of nine months a year. The majority of DRE’s work 11 months a year, and some need to work a full 12 months depending on the size of the program, which can range from a few students to a few thousand.
The job of the DRE extends beyond greeting families at once a week classes. Leaders are busy behind the scenes with phone calls and emails from parents, church members, parish staff, and the diocese. They plan and attend staff meetings and participate in parish and regional meetings, training sessions, and their own faith formation classes. They are responsible for the safety and well-being of every student in attendance and must be up to date on fire and safety codes, evacuation and lock down procedures, and health and medical alerts for students with special needs, dietary restrictions, and medical concerns. They are also in the tricky position of handling discipline issues and parent complaints.
Many DRE’s work 60-80 hours a week especially during busy seasons. They are in charge of filling the role of absent teachers, supplementing lesson plans, gathering and transporting materials, preparing liturgies, parent meetings, and handouts, and more. DRE’s are responsible for the maintenance of their buildings and safety of the children, volunteers, and staff. A DRE’s job is time consuming and receives little glory.
The DRE position is much like that of a school principal, but school principals generally make a higher salary, have better contracts, and receive more help running their schools. Yes, students are in session for longer days than they are in a CCD class, but administration duties are not that different. The average salary of a school principal in America is approximately $91,000. The average salary of a DRE in America is $37,000.
Why the Recent Jump in Catholic CCD Education Costs?
It’s no surprise that we’re paying more for things today than we did in the past. Food prices have gone up. Heating costs have gone up. Entertainment costs have gone up. Education costs have gone up. Why then are so many shocked by the cost of educating children in our Catholic faith? The answer may be twofold. First, the price of sending a child to CCD has gone up more than some other expenses. Second, many feel that educating a child in the faith should be free or very low cost. Please note, any family in real need is not turned away from CCD. It may require going to the DRE or a parish priest to humbly ask for help and sharing finances as you would to any program you requested assistance from, but families in need are generally given free tuition.
According to the Collegeboard, which designs the SAT and is a leader in helping students plan post secondary education, private nonprofit college tuition has risen approximately 41% in ten years. This means what cost $100 in 2007 now costs about $141. In terms of private college tuition not including room and board, it means that what once cost $10,000 now costs $14,100. This may not be seen as a drastic change yet many complain of college tuition too. CCD tuition has risen at a faster rate than other expenses but part of that reason is because the starting points were so low. Catholic parishes have, in almost all cases, done the best they can to keep programs low cost. Because starting points were low, they now find they need to raise costs more quickly to maintain status quo.
Our little ones are nowhere near college and many young families are hit for the first time in CCD tuition by the sticker shock of education. By the time students get to college, families have been warned about the costs for so long they are expecting it. They also see the value in it and sacrifice to make that payment work. In cases where tuition doesn’t work easily, many families take out loans or choose a public college which is state subsidized and less expensive. No family should have to take out a loan to attend CCD, but some other sacrifices may have to be made. Choosing a state sponsored CCD program is not an option.
Why Isn’t Our CCD Program Paid for by the Parish?
Reality is harsh, and it’s hitting Catholic churches worldwide. Sadly, many families choose to send their children to CCD but fail to attend Mass and don’t give regularly. Sunday is no longer a day of rest in thanksgiving and glorifying the Lord. It is a day to sleep in, watch football, hang out with friends, and catch up on the week’s work or get ahead for the coming week. These parishioners often want free tuition paid by the church but they don’t want to give to the church.
Dropping numbers of Christians in America and the rise of social Catholics compared to devout Catholics result in decreasing funds available to subsidize faith formation classes. If parishes were to fully fund faith formation classes, money would be taken from other Corporal Works of Mercy including feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and caring for the imprisoned.
Weak catechesis of today’s adults has left mothers and fathers skeptical of the value of CCD programs. Because parents were never told of the depth of the Catholic faith, they don’t see the Rosary as more than repetitive prayer, for example. They don’t understand the Real Presence of the Eucharist or the call to Reconciliation. They don’t know the connection to Communion of Saints or how Mary and Jesus are longing for them to come home. Few have heard of Eucharistic Adoration. Many believe Mass should be entertaining to be fulfilling, and don’t value what is truly happening in that Holy hour.
This poor catechesis is not their fault, but because they don’t know there is more, they miss the point of sending children to CCD, going to Mass, and doing other deeply Catholic things. When people don’t understand the value, they question paying for the cause. The end result is that the few who still send their children to CCD and attend Mass end up carrying a bigger burden.
Is Catholic CCD Worth the Expense?
Families are hurting in our tight economy. Jobs are hard to come by, and people increasingly rely on government provisions. Many families question whether they can afford their children’s CCD expenses.
A good place to start answering this is to compare CCD expenses with other family expenses. Look at the activities your children do. How much is spent on sports programs, art clubs, and dance class? How much do we as a society spend on raising children’s self-esteem? How much do we spend on counseling? Think long term and ask how much we layout in the hopes of preventing teen pregnancy and STD’s. No CCD program can eliminate these needs, but devout Catholic families who seek support of other devout Catholic families tend to raise children who understand the God-given dignity of all God’s children. They have a lower incidence of out of wedlock births, sexually transmitted diseases, and other social and emotional complications that come along with not valuing Catholic beliefs.
Perhaps the best thing to do when considering if you can afford CCD is to think in eternal terms. What value does the world’s best soccer program have in Heaven? What value does producing amazing artwork have if you skip Mass to produce it? What value does performing intricate dance moves have for your child’s soul?
Many of us who were poorly catechized see the amazing creation of God when we gaze upon our children. We see in them a promise and perfection we don’t see in ourselves. Because we are so closely created in God’s image, we want our children to be happy so we sign them up for activities that promote immediate happiness. We see the value in immediate happiness. We get instant satisfaction when our kids are happy, well liked, and skilled. Value in a CCD program comes out on God’s timing. It requires patience, perseverance, sacrifice, and long term thinking. It also requires us, as adults, to understand the real value of all the Catholic-y things we do.
If we question the value of our children’s faith formation, perhaps the first thing we need to do is to question our own faith formation and take charge of what we were not able to do as children. As adults, we need to research our Catholic faith and discover what it is we believe and why. It is only when we embrace the depth of our faith that we see the true value of a quality CCD program. Once we understand that, we must ask, not if we can afford CCD, but how can we not?