Catholic schools, once a mainstay for the Irish, Italian, and Polish communities in American cities, are struggling. With shrinking numbers of nuns as a source of free labor, and fewer parishioners passing the donation baskets on Sunday and enrolling their kids in parochial schools, many simply cannot afford to keep their doors open. Just last week, the Archdiocese of New York announced the closure of five more schools for financial reasons; that's on top of dozens that were shuttered in 2011 and 2013.
At least in Milwaukee, Catholic churches have kept their schools alive with the help of vouchers—public money given to parents to spend for their children's education at the private school of their choice. The economists Daniel M. Hungerman and Kevin J. Rinz and the church administrator Jay Frymark spent three years pouring through the financial records of 71 parishes in Milwaukee—information that is rarely shared with researchers—between 1999 and 2013 to understand the impact of school vouchers on churches. In a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, they explain that vouchers actually staved off imminent school closures in Milwaukee, though they did not improve the church's overall finances.