Last modified on 29 December 2018, at 21:00

Parochial School

A parochial school in the United States is a school which is owned and operated by a church or other religious institution. They do not receive any federal, state or local funds, but depending on the state, parents may receive school vouchers good for tuition.

In the United States, the term generally refers to schools operated by the Catholic Church,[1] but is also used in some circles for schools operated by mainline denominations. By contrast, schools run by or associated with evangelical, Pentecostal/charismatic, or fundamentalist denominations or churches virtually never refer to themselves as parochial; usually they are known as "Christian schools". The term "private school" is frequently used as a catch-all term to identify all non-public schools, especially in online searches, but when in reference to an individual school it commonly refers to one that is non-sectarian.

Catholic schools

Since the 1960s the number of Catholic schools in the United States and students attending them has been declining rapidly; many have closed as a result.

According to the National Catholic Education Association, in the 1960s there were 12,893 Catholic schools with 5.25 million students attending. But at last official count there were only 7,378 Catholic schools with 2.27 million students attending. Since 2000 about 1,267 Catholic schools have closed and enrollment nationwide has dropped by 382,125 students, or 14 percent.[2]

Catholic nuns ("sisters") traditionally filled many of teaching positions at parochial schools, which typically were controlled by the parish and supervised by the diocese. In 1965, 104,000 teaching sisters educated students in parochial schools in the United States. By 2007, that number had declined by 94%, such that there are only 8,200 teaching sisters.[3] With the exception of religious studies, often classes are taught by persons with secular teaching degrees or private sector experience.[4]

The reason for the decline may be the population shift in America from northern cities (where Catholicism has historically been the strongest) to southern cities (where Protestantism is stronger) and western cities (where religious belief of any sort is generally minimal, the strongest being among Mormon adherents). In the southern and western areas, affluent suburbs have risen up in recent years with generally strong public school systems where parents have chosen to send their children (though the schools are secular and frequently show a subtle hostility toward religion).


  1. The word "parochial" is taken from the same root word as "parish", as the schools were originally operated by the local Catholic parish.
  3. Hilary White, "Vatican Cardinal Criticizes U.S. for not Funding Catholic Schools," The Wanderer, pp. 1 and 7, Vol. 140, No. 49 (Dec. 6, 2007).
  4. It is generally a requirement that the person must agree to teach in accordance with the viewpoints of the school administration. In some Christian schools agreement to the viewpoints themselves is usually required, even to the point that the teacher must be a member of the school's sponsoring church.