L.A.-area Catholic schools struggling to serve low-income students amid plunging enrollment, lack of fundraising

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. “We believe better days are ahead.”

Hayes has been hoping that the school’s partial reopening under a county-approved waiver will prompt families to return. By late December only three had re-enrolled.

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.