Grant helps Cicero Catholic school stay open after 'Invest in Kids' program not renewed

ByEvelyn Holmes and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Wednesday, March 6, 2024
Grant helps Catholic school stay open after IL program ends
St. Frances of Rome Catholic school in Cicero was set to close after lawmakers ended funding for the "Invest in Kids" scholarship program last year.

CICERO, Ill. (WLS) -- Students at a west suburban Catholic school got some good news on Wednesday.

The Saint Frances of Rome School in Cicero will stay open, thanks to a grant from the Big Shoulders Fund.

The archdiocese planned to close Saint Frances in June, after a controversial program that provided indirect state support for students attending private and religious schools was not renewed at the end of 2023.

More than half of students at the school relied on the "Invest in Kids" scholarship program.

RELATED: Cicero, Berwyn Catholic schools to close at end of school year after state ends scholarship funding

"I was getting all choked up in church this morning listening to the kids sing, thinking we can continue doing things like this," Saint Frances of Rome School Principal Phil Jackson said. "Kids can continue having these experiences. Not only receiving a fantastic prep school education, we can also help them get closer to God."

The good new comes as the school prepared to mark its 100-year history.

The CEO of the Big Shoulders Fund Josh Hale said Saint Frances of Rome school is a critical part of the Cicero community.

"We also take on financial risk and then are able to help manage their long term planning," Hale said. "We hope to provide more stability.

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"We can continue our plan of being the absolute best Hispanic prep school in the entire Archdiocese," Jackson said.

"I am beyond words," school parent and alumna Christine Clark said. "I am so excited that we were able to save our school."

Clark and her 13-year-old daughter Amy, a 7th grader at the school, couldn't be happier.

"I've been here since Pre-K with all my friends," Amy said. "It's always been our dream to graduate with each other, so I'm pretty happy."

Archdiocese officials said the school has been operating with an annual $300,000 deficit for years, but the final blow was the end of the "Invest in Kids" scholarship program.

"And with the loss of the state scholarship program, half the kids here are on scholarship that created an impossible hole," Archdiocese of Chicago Schools Superintendent Greg Richmond said.

Gifts from anonymous donors. along with support from the Archdiocese, the neighborhood parish and the school's sharing parish, St. Anne's in Barrington, and the Big Shoulders Fund all helped fill the gap.

While St. Frances of Rome has been saved, another schools slated for closure, St. Odilo in Berwyn, has not. It is expected to permanently close at the end of the school year.