Nanette Levin, Special to The Catholic Virginian

Virginia Catholic schools have seen incredible enrollment increases, particularly in the Southwest, due to the Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credits program (EISTC). Since 2013, the McMahon Parater Scholarship Foundation (MPSF) of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond has provided 2,620 scholarships totaling nearly $10 million to students across the diocese. More than $4 million was donated last year alone.

An outcropping of the late Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo’s McMahon Parater Foundation (MPF), the program burgeoned after the General Assembly passed EISTC legislation in 2012. That allowed those who give to a private school through an accredited foundation, such as the MPSF, to get tax credits totaling 65 percent of the donation plus the charitable contribution deduction. Credits can be applied to the current year’s return or carried over for up to five years.

“This has been a tremendous asset for Catholic education,” said Joyce Schreiber, director of the MPSF.

The program provides tuition assistance for families living at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level which is currently $73,800 for a family of four. Families pay what they can afford. The MPSF and parish monies cover the rest. All but 9.9 percent, which is used for administration, goes directly back to the communities that gave.

At Sacred Heart, Danville, this has meant the difference between thriving and shuttering doors. According to Kira Kania, principal, 127 students were enrolled in the summer of 2012. The program has bolstered enrollment to 170 today and created a balanced budget. This is major accomplishment in a poor community where most public schools have lost accreditation or are on probation, she said.

“The program sells itself. We have folks that renew and increase their donations year-to-year,” Kania said.

She explained residents couldn’t afford the $7,000 tuition, but now they can with parishioners donating $6,500 for each student in need.

Roanoke Catholic has achieved the largest growth with MPSF, having raised more than $750,000 last year. This was matched with $250,000 from parish donations so an additional 90 low-income students could enroll this year.

When Patrick Patterson became principal of the school in 2010, its enrollment was 250 students. Today, enrollment is 485, with a 93 percent retention rate.

“We anticipate the school will be north of 500 in 2-3 years. It’s been at least a decade since we’ve seen those numbers,” he said. “The other thing we’re really proud of is a lot of our students are going on to seminary school. Not only are we creating great kids that go off to college, but we’re also creating our future church leaders and you simply can’t put a price on that.”

Roanoke Catholic achieved these results by investing in a development officer and support staff.

“The money that we’re spending in salaries for those positions . . . brings in much more money, plus many more families,” Patterson said. “We’re very blessed as a regional school to get that kind of support.”

Roanoke Catholic draws donations from Blacksburg, Rocky Mount and other surrounding parishes. In turn, they send volunteers out to those communities.

The MPSF coordinates the program for the diocese, “but, it’s really the schools and their relationship with their local community that is helping to make it successful,” said Schreiber.

The EISTC is designed to be revenue neutral, offsetting public school costs with tax credits for private school scholarships. Catholic school assistance requests are $8 million. MPSF is funding $3 million.

“If you have at least $500 to donate, why wouldn’t you (give to the MPSF)?” Patterson said. “It just makes sense. Your money is going to be spent anyway. Why not direct it to where you want it to go?”

Editor’s note: For more information about MPSF, contact Joyce Schreiber at (804) 622-5190 or jschreiber@richmonddiocese.org.