Catholic Schools Serve Low-Income Children in LA

Published June 1, 2001

Los Angeles Catholic schools serving low-income and minority children have a much lower dropout rate (3 percent) than the city’s public schools (22 percent) and send a greater proportion of their students to college, according to a new study from the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute.

Although public school advocates argue the public schools could achieve the same results if taxpayers would give them more money, the study reveals that Los Angeles public schools, on average, already spend nearly twice as much per pupil ($9,029) as do Catholic high schools ($5,000), and nearly three times as much as Catholic elementary schools (2,200).

Teacher union officials have attributed the high failure rate of low-income and minority students in public schools to the lack of credentialed teachers. But the low proportion of fully credentialed teachers at Catholic schools (56 percent) does not appear to prevent those schools from serving students better than they are served in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where 73 percent of the teachers are fully credentialed.

For the study, “Helping Hand: How Private Philanthropy and Catholic Schools Serve Low-Income Children in Los Angeles,” a survey was conducted on some 13,000 Los Angeles families whose children attend Catholic schools, as well as Catholic school principals. In particular, the study examined children receiving scholarships from the Catholic Education Foundation, which provides a means for low-income children in Los Angeles to attend Catholic school.

Almost half of the scholarship recipients were Hispanic, according to the study, with a majority coming from minority families. Children receiving scholarships are more likely to have parents who are separated, have not completed high school, or have other children. Children from families in the lowest income brackets–earning less than $10,000 a year–were 57 percent more likely to receive a scholarship than those from families earning $30,000 or above.

“Children of all races and religious affiliations choose Catholic education over neighborhood public schools, which on average rank below district and state performance averages,” said coauthors Thomas Dawson, fellow in education studies at the Institute, and Professor Eric Helland, of Claremont McKenna College. “Without the scholarships, these children would still be trapped in some of the worst schools in L.A. Unified.”

The study examines the possible reasons for the success of the Catholic schools and attributes it to management practices at Catholic schools, including allowing principals to control staff hiring and firing.

For more information . . .

Thomas Dawson and Eric Helland’s April 2001 study, “Helping Hand: How Private Philanthropy and Catholic Schools Serve Low-Income Children in Los Angeles,” is available at the Pacific Research Institute’s Web site at under the Center for School Reform.