A closer look at the end of vouchers and Catholic school closings

In late January the Archdiocese of Chicago announced the closing of two schools and blamed the closings on the end of the Invest in Kids program. The Diocese of Belleville also announced two school closings, also attributing the end of Invest in Kids as a factor in the decision. The Diocese of Joliet also announced a school closure and a school consolidation last month and attributed the closure to the end of the voucher program. Below we take a closer look at Catholic school enrollment (and what little is known about their finances) to evaluate these claims.

Catholic school enrollment nationwide has been dropping steadily for decades. Overall, the enrollment and school numbers in the Archdiocese of Chicago have followed this trend as well; the Archdiocese lost more than 47,000 students between the 2005-2005 and 2019-2020 school years (p.6) and has undergone dozens of mergers and closings in recent years” of parishes and schools.

This trend did not reverse course during the years of the Invest in Kids program. In the last year prior to Invest in Kids, 2017-2018, there were 214 schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago enrolling 78,000 students. This year, the sixth year of the Invest in Kids program’s public subsidies for private tuition, there are only 155 schools and 43,000 students in the Archdiocese.* Archdiocese schools received at least $20M through the IIK program last year ($15M of that covered by tax dollars, $5M by private contributions). 

There are no public statistics on the Diocese of Belleville’s schools drop in enrollment, but Notre Dame Academy itself is the result of consolidation of other schools, one of which decades ago enrolled 1,000 students.

As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times last fall, the Diocese of Joliet was already undergoing major restructuring, including more possible school closures, due to financial costs related to liability in sexual abuse cases.

There is not yet any data from the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) on voucher usage for the 2023-2024 school year, but only two of the five schools that are closing had substantial voucher use last year:


Senate/ House Dist

Min. voucher $

Voucher students

Total enrollment

% voucher use

# low-inc students

St. Frances of Rome, Cicero







St. Odilo, Berwyn







St. Ann, Nashville







Notre Dame Academy, Belleville







St. Matthews, Glendale Heights







2022-2023 school year data

Surprisingly, according to the Archdiocese, the number of students using vouchers skyrocketed for the current school year to 104 at St. Frances of Rome and 60 at St. Odilo, increases of 700% and 122%, respectively, and now half of all students at the two schools are voucher recipients vs. only 12% during the prior school year. Since Invest in Kids is a tax credit scholarship voucher scheme, the funds are in part potentially determined by school-specific contributions; it seems noteworthy that the Archdiocese is choosing to close schools which possibly had a dramatic increase in private funds directed to them.

The Diocese of Belleville did not provide any 2023-2024 data on voucher usage.

Some private schools that were previously Invest in Kids recipients are working on making up public dollars with private fundraising, e.g. St. Bede in Ingleside, which raised $400,000 in a month in response to a threat of closure by the Archdiocese in December. St. Bede’s received at least $134,071 in IIK funds last year.

There is essentially no public data on the finances of individual schools run by the Archdiocese or other Illinois Dioceses, so there is no independent way to verify the financial impact of ending Invest in Kids program on a particular school.

[Photo via Creative Commons license]

It's important to note that neither of the schools that are closing in the Archdiocese of Chicago report serving any special education students, and we couldn't find any mention of either services for students with disabilities or English-language learners on their website (despite the fact that St. Frances of Rome's website is entirely bilingual (English-Spanish). 

Meanwhile, the underfunded public school districts that these two schools are in serve a large percentage of ELLs and SWDs. St. Frances of Rome is in Cicero District 99 where nearly 60% of students are ELLs. About 15% of students have IEPs, and the district overall is short about $45M in the funding it needs to educate its student population; they have only 75% of the funding they need. St. Odilo is located in Berwyn South District 100. Berwyn South serves 30% ELLs and 14% students with IEPs. They're only at 72% adequacy, a funding shortfall of about $14 million

For 2022, the Archdiocese website’s Facts and Figures page says 154 Archdiocese-run schools and 189 total Catholic schools, 64K students in total. In 2018, the website listed stats from 2015-2016, not distinguishing between Archdiocese-run and otherwise, as 217 schools with 76K students.  In 2003, the Archdiocese had approximately 117,000 studentsAccording to the Archdiocese of Chicago's financial reports, as of June 30, 2022, the Archdiocese operated 152 elementary schools and 3 high schools, and there were another 8 Catholic elementary schools and 27 Catholic high schools in Cook and Lake counties not run by the Archdiocese. As of June 30, 2017, the Archdiocese operated 176 elementary schools and 4 high schools, and there were another 8 Catholic elementary schools and 33 Catholic high schools in Cook and Lake counties not run by the Archdiocese. In all cases, the drop in schools and students has been significant and consistent.