Archbishop Jerome Listecki greets students at St. Rafael the Archangel School.

Supporting the students of Seton’s family of Catholic schools shouldn’t be a priority only for the members of those particular parish communities served.

Since the 3,000 students who attend the 12 current Seton schools represent some of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in the city, ensuring their access to quality Catholic education becomes a matter of social justice for all Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Brian Couch, President and CEO of Seton Catholic Schools, discussed ways everyone can support the mission of Seton and the futures of the children who thrive in its classrooms.

Support School Choice Programs

The most fundamental way to ensure the success of Seton schools is by supporting their main source of revenue: Wisconsin’s Private School Choice Programs. Families participating in this program are able to send their children to private schools when they otherwise could not afford the tuition. The private school is reimbursed by state aid payments for eligible students.

“We’re able to operate fully Catholic schools from a culture, identity and moral value perspective, using state-provided funding,” said Couch, who added that seven out of eight Seton families utilize the Choice program. “Parental Choice Programs are a key element to making vibrant Catholic education available to students, parents and communities that can’t afford it on their own.”

Supporting legislation and policies that protect the Choice program is essential to Seton’s continued progress, said Couch.

“It’s a matter of equal funding for every student, regardless of who they are, and honoring the ability of parents to make the decision on which school is best for their child,” he said.

Be informed and spread the good news

It’s important for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to understand the mission of Seton Catholic Schools, said Couch. More than simply being a system of urban schools, Seton is an innovative model of education — a “family” of communities working to ensure the moral and educational well-being of their students.

Seton’s goal of revitalizing urban Catholic education is rooted in the traditional parish-based school model but consolidates the administrative and operational aspects in the team at the Seton level, allowing principals and teachers in each member school to focus on pastoral and academic leadership.

It’s all about “enabling high-quality parish schools,” said Couch, in a modern society and economy that has caused many parish schools to struggle.

“The parish identity is really at the core of what we want to build on,” he said. “We don’t operate independent Catholic schools. We operate parish schools, on behalf of the parish, as an archdiocesan entity.”

In its seven years of existence, Seton students have demonstrated impressive academic growth, including improvements of 132 percent in math and 128 percent in reading this past year. Students’ average 2022 scores in math and reading were more than double those of their public school counterparts, and 60 percent above the scores of other Choice students in Milwaukee.

Help make up the difference

For the 2022-23 school year, private schools participating in the Choice program are reimbursed a maximum of $8,399 per student in grades K through 8. That leaves a shortfall of roughly $2,500 per student, each year, for Seton schools to provide the quality of instruction to which they are committed.

Seton donors come from all walks of life, said Couch, and represent a variety of geographic areas and economic backgrounds — but are united in their “passionate belief in the value of a high-quality Catholic education for urban students, families and communities.”

The Seton Difference Campaign was launched last summer with a fundraising goal of $30 million, $16 million of which has already been raised. The money will go to support the implementation of Seton’s strategic plan, which anticipates an expansion to include approximately 20 parish schools in the city of Milwaukee in the next five to seven years. The plan also calls for the investment in Catholic culture with a Director of Mission and Catholic Identity, already hired, the revitalization of existing facilities and the building of new ones, and the acquisition and retention of top teaching talent.

“Every gift makes a difference,” said Couch.