It’s been a year of deep losses at St. Joseph Elementary School in La Puente.

Thirty students, or about 16% of the student body, did not show up in the fall, costing the school tens of thousands of dollars in tuition. Four employees were laid off. One of the school’s fundraising pillars, the annual jog-a-thon, was cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions.

“Finances are tight, but we’re doing our best and are proud our community has not turned its back on us,” St. Joseph Principal Luis Hayes said. 

St. Joseph’s circumstances are emblematic of the plunging enrollment and hobbled fundraising that threaten the future of many schools in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, one of the largest private educational systems in the nation. Although many Catholic schools long have struggled with dropping enrollment, pandemic-induced family hardships and financial strain have accelerated the decline.

The coronavirus-induced drop comes on top of bruising declines during the Great Recession years, when Catholic schools lost 7,909 students, or 8.93% from 2008 to 2010.

Three schools have already closed this school year: St. John Paul II STEM Academy in Burbank, St. Anthony of El Segundo and All Saints of El Sereno elementary schools, while others say they’re on the brink.

Elementary schools like Resurrection in Boyle HeightsOur Lady of the Rosary in Paramount and St. Maria Goretti in Long Beach have publicized $50,000 GoFundMe campaigns asking for help to stay open.

“What we’re facing, what our families are facing are tremendous odds,” archdiocese Supt. Paul Escala said of the 262 elementary and high school campuses across Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. A majority of the elementary school students come from low-income families who receive scholarships to pay for tuition that generally ranges from $3,000 to $5,000 a year, with a handful of schools charging more.

August numbers showed that overall, enrollment dropped in the fall by 7,195 students, an unprecedented decline of nearly 10%. This includes 995 students at the high school level, leaving an archdiocese-wide enrollment of roughly 66,000.

The new stimulus bill provides another round of PPP loans and unemployment benefits that could aid Catholic schools and their laid-off employees, but it does not provide any special financial assistance as requested last August by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, led by Los Angeles Archbishop José Gómez.

At Paraclete High School in Lancaster, most students come from middle-income and working-class families and receive financial assistance for tuition that ranges from $8,100 to $9,700.

“We had something like 40 parents of 50 to 60 students lose their jobs, and we’ve had to fill in and keep these kids in school,” said Principal John Anson. “Like all Catholic schools, we’re surviving on a wing and a prayer. … If we’re in the same place this time next year, oh boy.”

Full story at Los Angeles Times.