Catholic school enrollment holds steady nationally, rises in Florida

Bishop Barbarito and students
Bishop Barbarito of the Diocese of Palm Beach poses with Reverand Delvard, pastor and students from St. Ann Catholic School in West Palm Beach.

By Ron Matus and Lauren May

The latest national and state-by-state Catholic school enrollment numbers are out – and they amplify the contrast between what’s happening in Florida and most of the rest of America.

Bishop Barbarito of the Diocese of Palm Beach poses with Reverand Delvard, pastor and students from St. Ann Catholic School in West Palm Beach.

Nationally, Catholic school enrollment in PreK-12 held steady, according to the latest annual report from the National Catholic Educational Association, released Wednesday. In 2023-24, 1,693,327 students were enrolled in Catholic schools, virtually the same number as the prior year. (Officially, the 2022-23 number was 1,693,493.)

In Florida, enrollment climbed to 90,785, up 5.2% from the prior year.

The NCEA figures for Florida are slightly different than the numbers NextSteps reported in January. That report was based on enrollment figures from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, which includes a broader group of preschool students in its count.

Either way, Florida continues to be an encouraging outlier.

table of Catholic school enrollment growth

Last August, Step Up For Students published “Why Catholic Schools In Florida Are Growing: 5 Things To Know,” which took a closer look at the Florida numbers and some of the factors behind them.

At that time, Florida was the only state in the Top 10 for Catholic school enrollment to see growth over the past decade – 4.4%. The latest figures show that’s still the case, but strong gains over the past year boost the 10-year increase to 9.2%.

Clearly, Florida’s robust education choice scholarship programs are a difference maker. But it’s also true that in the most competitive educational environment in the country, Florida Catholic schools have found even more ways to stand out to families.

A number of schools have incorporated popular programming, such as IB programs and classical curriculum while keeping Catholic teaching at the core of all that they do. At the same time, some dioceses have embraced – and relentlessly deployed – cutting-edge strategies to raise parental awareness about choice scholarships.

During scholarship application season, the Diocese of Venice, which covers southwest Florida, now sends more than 1 million texts and emails about the scholarships to Catholic families. Not coincidentally, the diocese has the biggest enrollment growth of any diocese in Florida, and all 16 of its schools now have wait lists.

Nationally, Catholic school enrollment is down 14.2% over the past decade, but there are encouraging signs here, too. After a post-COVID dip, the numbers climbed for two years before stabilizing this year. Five of the Top 10 states also showed some year-over-year growth this year. (Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Texas).

The good news is that there is no reason for Florida to remain the outlier given the growing number of states that have adopted major if not universal choice programs in the past three years. Catholic school supporters across the nation have a golden opportunity to help their schools further flourish and grow.

Ron Matus is Director of Research and Special Projects and Lauren May is Advocacy Director at Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog and administers education choice scholarship programs in Florida.

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BY Special to NextSteps

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