Alia Beard Rau
With their hefty tuition, Arizona’s elite Catholic high schools struggle with a reputation of educating only rich students. But officials at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix and Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson say the state’s private school tax credit program has opened their doors to everyone.
Tuition at Brophy, where Gov. Doug Ducey has sent his sons, is $14,000 a year. Salpointe costs $8,700.
The tax-credit program allows individuals and corporations to get a dollar-for-dollar credit for donations made to participating school tuition organizations that then provide scholarships to students attending private schools. According to data The Arizona Republic acquired through public record requests, Brophy students last school year received $1.6 million in scholarships from individual donors and $742,611 from corporate donors. Salpointe students got $2 million in scholarships from individual donors and $1 million from corporate donors.
Scholarships to these two schools are usually about $3,000 or $4,000 each, but students can get scholarships from multiple school tuition organizations. The state does not track how much each student receives or how many students get multiple scholarships. In comparison, the state that same year paid out about $4,138 per student in public schools.
School tuition organizations have various criteria for who who qualifies for scholarships. The Institute for Better Education, the biggest scholarship provider to Salpointe students, allows donors to “recommend” a particular child benefit from the donation. The organization provides parents a form letter to solicit donations on behalf of their child. Brophy Community Foundation, where the majority of Brophy scholarships originate, allocates scholarships based on financial need.
“The rich-kid school perception isn’t what it’s turning out to be,” said Genny Matteucci, executive director of the Brophy Community Foundation, which also allocates school tax credit scholarships to 28 other Catholic schools across the state. “We award according to need.”
Jeremy Pasia, 18, who graduated from Brophy in May, said he wouldn’t have attended Brophy without the tax-credit scholarship program.
“For kids like us, financial aid is imperative,” he said. “Our families don’t make as much as other kids at this school.”
Principal Bob Ryan said he wouldn’t want to work for a school that only catered to a homogeneous group of students.
“We certainly have kids who come from significant means. But we also have plenty who don’t,” he said. “This is a place that educates boys to become leaders someday, regardless of their financial status. And the tax-credit program is a huge piece of that. It would be a much less interesting educational environment if not for the diversity.”
Ryan said Brophy’s creation of its Loyola program has been a public pronouncement to the community that Brophy isn’t a “rich kid school.” The program was created to educate low-income middle school students who would eventually go on to Brophy. It received $847,244 in scholarships for its 77 students last year. Of that, $559,944 was from individuals and $377,300 from corporations.
“This has allowed us to recruit kids who might not have thought about Brophy,” Reese said. “These are boys that would never have had a chance for this kind of education.”
Charles Aya Tukoo Gbkia, 14, was promoted from the program in May and this fall will attend Brophy as a freshman.
“This school determines my family’s future,” he said, explaining that his parents are from Libera and spent 14 years as refugees on the Ivory Coast, where he was born. “This school is a way for me to improve my family’s status.”
Salpointe Advancement Director Mindae Russell said their tax credit money is focused on helping those most in need.
“We have a very diverse population, not just economically but ethnically and academically,” she said. “The majority of that $3.8 million that we receive is designated to financial need students. We aren’t awarding those dollars to students who can afford to be here.”
The state does not track the economic status of each school’s scholarship recipients.
Giselle Munoz, 14, will be a junior this fall. She has four younger sisters and said she couldn’t attend Salpointe without scholarship help. As a lower-income family, she qualified for scholarships under the corporate tax credits as well as the individual credits.
“It’s an amazing school,” she said. “It’s been a little tough being a student athlete, but we get help from the teachers. And my coach understands that school comes first, and then softball.”
Sally Cooper is Salpointe’s corporate tax-credit liaison. She works with families to better understand the scholarship process.
“It’s just like going after college funds,” she said. “A lot of our families are committed to Catholic education. They might have four or five kids. Those families on paper look like they are making $150,000 a year, but try putting four kids through private school.”