This from the Boston Globe by Lisa Wangsness:
Boston-area Catholic schools have discovered a new niche that they hope will help reverse a decades-long decline in student population: preschool.

Enrollment in local Catholic preschool classes this year is up nearly 14 percent over last year and 22 percent over five years ago, as elementary schools in the Boston Archdiocese have added programs for 3- and 4-year-olds and freestanding Catholic preschools have sprung up in response to surging demand.

Principals and administrators say the preschools are attracting working parents, including many non-Catholics, by providing high-quality programs for a lower price than full-time day care, which can easily run more than $10,000 a year.

“For working parents, there is going to be a cost, regardless of whether it’s an academic program or a child-care program,’’ said Russ W. Wilson, regional director of Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy, which offers prekindergarten through eighth grade at multiple campuses in Dorchester and Mattapan. “So parents are doing some simple math and realizing that, for an affordable price, they are able to send their child to . . . a full day of academics, socialization, computer skills.’’

Busy parents are also drawn to the extended hours that most Catholic schools offer.

At Pope John Paul II’s Columbia campus in Dorchester, a 3-year-old can be dropped off as early as 6:30 a.m. and can stay as late as 6 p.m. Tuition is $4,700 a year for the full school day program, plus an additional $5 an hour for before- and after-school care. The bill for sending a child five days a week from 7 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. would total nearly $8,000 for the school year.

That may sound steep. But in Massachusetts, sending a 4-year-old to a day-care center full time costs, on average, more than $13,000 a year, according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies.

The prekindergarten bubble is a rare bit of good enrollment news for Boston’s Catholic schools, where student population has plunged from 153,000 in 1965 to fewer than 42,500 this year. Thanks partly to the surge of young students, the year-over-year decline in local Catholic school enrollment this year was the smallest in a decade, according to the archdiocese — 1.9 percent.

The critical question, those who study Catholic schools say, is whether these new families will keep their children in Catholic schools as they grow older and have the option of attending free public or charter schools.

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