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Private foundation to run Philadelphia's Catholic high schools

Faced with high costs and low enrollment, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is relinquishing control of its Roman Catholic high schools and special education centers to a private foundation, church leaders said.

Archbishop Charles Chaput announced Tuesday that the Faith in the Future Foundation, based in Philadelphia, will oversee 17 secondary and four special education schools beginning Sept. 1.

The partnership creates a new independent Catholic school system that serves about 15,000 students on a $128 million budget.

The archdiocese also serves about 49,000 elementary students and will not be affected by the new deal. Church officials said they hope the new partnership with the foundation, formed by local Catholic business leaders six months ago, will reinvigorate Philadelphia’s 120-year-old educational system hit hard by budget cuts and decline in enrollment.

“Certainly, on the enrollment side and the cost side, our schools have been shrinking for years, and we have to find new ways to partner,” Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, who oversees education for the archdiocese, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Chaput said he hoped the partnership will lead to a sustainable model for local religious education. The lay group can "provide a level of creativity we wouldn't be able to achieve on our own, and a broader level of community participation," he said.

The foundation was established following an outpouring of support for four Catholic high schools that were targeted for shuttering in June. About $12 million was generated to keep the schools open, according to local media reports.

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The original mission of the foundation, led by former Cigna Corp. chief executive H. Edward Hanway, was to strengthen all local Catholic high schools through fundraising and marketing. The Faith in the Future Foundation will not be paid during its five-year contract with the archdiocese, he said.

"The independence of the Catholic secondary system, with the schools of special education, was critical to our ability to more fully address the fundraising and enrollment needs of our schools," said Hanway in a statement. "With capacity available to educate an additional 15,000 students, we fully intend to grow."

The schools will still get religious and academic curricula from the archdiocese's Office of Catholic Education, but those administrators will now report to the foundation, Hanway said.

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All Catholic high school teachers are union members and will remain employees of the archdiocese, according to church officials. Union contracts will not be affected under the new deal, according to the archdiocese.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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