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Catholic Schools Tap into Paycheck Protection Program

Theo Helm on Thursday, 30 April 2020.

Our Lady of Tepeyac Students

When the federal government passed the CARES Act last month, schools, parishes and (arch)dioceses hoped they could find financial relief under the Paycheck Protection Program, which granted nonprofits and small businesses forgivable loans of up to $10 million to pay for salaries, insurance premiums and other expenses.

After initial questions about whether schools and parishes would qualify under the Small Business Administration (SBA)’s affiliate rules and be able to maintain their independence, the SBA issued guidance clarifying that they would be treated as separate entities from their (arch)dioceses and assuring them of their autonomy.

Since then, a number of Catholic schools have received the forgivable loans, and the government added an additional $310 billion to the program after the first $350 billion ran out. The additional money became available Monday, and experts are urging small businesses such as schools to apply quickly.

We talked to a principal and a school president who applied for and received a grant about their experience.

Dan Charlebois is the principal of Immaculate Heart Central School in Watertown, New York in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, and a member of the 18th cohort of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program.

What size is your school?

We are pre-K-12 with 308 students, 44 teachers and 69 total staff.

When did you begin distance learning?

March 16

What was your thinking behind applying for the Paycheck Protection Program?

We’ve had financial issues before the COVID outbreak, with declining parish enrollment and other challenges. Human resources are the biggest part of the budget.

Did you have any reservations about applying for or receiving support from the federal government?

The diocese had reservations because of the affiliate requirement (requiring applicants, including their affiliates, to have fewer than 500 employees. After initial questions about whether schools were affiliates of their dioceses, the SBA clarified they’d be treated as individual entities.). Once the diocese said you’re good to go, they encouraged us to apply. There’s no apprehension at all, so I immediately applied.

How has it helped your school?

We received $500,000. It covers employees’ payroll through the next two months, so any income we receive we can divert elsewhere. It gives us the financial stability to move forward. We were very nervous about cash flow before receiving the PPP.

We typically enroll students through April, but so far we have fewer than typical. Parents aren’t sure. They say they’re not facing an employment crisis now, but they worry about three months from now.

Do you have any insights you’d offer other schools?

Do it. The process itself wasn’t that bad. It was definitely worthwhile.


Joni Thompson is the president of Our Lady of Tepeyac Schools in Chicago, where ACE Teaching Fellows have served for several years. ACE 25’s Erin Thomassen teaches high school math there this year.

What size is your school?

Our high school is 150 girls, and we have 22 on staff.

When did you begin distance learning?

March 16

How did you hear about the program?

The first I heard about it was on the news. Then it came up with a board member who was involved with our fundraiser. At first, I thought we would not qualify, because we’re a part of the archdiocese, and the archdiocese clearly has more than 500 employees.

Did you have any reservations about applying for or receiving support from the federal government?

I didn’t really have any trepidation about it. We decided to aggressively pursue the Paycheck Protection Program because of our parents’ job losses. We have financial reserves that we wanted to use to create an emergency scholarship program to cover the gap (if parents can’t pay tuition). When I found out it was a grant, there was nothing to lose in going after it. I was pleasantly surprised we got it.

How has it helped your school?

We received $215,000. It just made us more comfortable to focus on our mission. It’s allowing us to dip into that reserve for tuition assistance instead of using it for payroll.

Do you have any insights you’d offer other schools?

Keep reaching out and working with the banks. Keep asking questions – this isn’t your area of expertise. The banks are experiencing a learning curve too.

For more information on Coronavirus Relief Options, visit sba.gov.

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