Catholic Schools and Public Schools: Understand the Difference

January 1, 2023

Choosing the right school is a difficult process. Both Catholic schools and public schools in the U.S. seek to educate students and prepare them for their academic and professional careers. However, there are several key differences between these two institutions. 

Below, readers can find answers to common questions about the Catholic school system.

What is a Catholic school?

A Catholic school is a preschool, elementary school, or high school administered in association with the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic schools do not require their students to be Catholic—all faiths and creeds are welcome! In fact, 30% of enrolled students in Western Washington are not Catholic.

All students at Catholic schools are expected to attend Catholic religion classes and Catholic Mass. Catholic schools believe that teaching the Catholic faith produces more mindful students who believe in living in service to others.

Who is in charge of Catholic schools?

Like any public school, day-to-day operations are overseen by an administration of educators, typically led by a principal. However, Catholic elementary schools are usually tied to a local parish under the leadership of a pastor or priest. Catholic high schools may fall under the leadership of a diocese, archdiocese, or religious institute.

Do Catholic school students have to complete service?

Yes! Service is an integral part of the Catholic education system and the Catholic identity. Catholics believe that service projects instill important values, such as social responsibility, leadership, and compassion. Students of all age levels are asked to complete service projects. Some schools may sponsor service trips locally, nationally, or even abroad.

What are the academics like at a Catholic school?

Catholic schools teach all the important academic subjects that students need to succeed in life. Statistics show that Catholic school students excel in the academic arena. Data from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) shows that Catholic schools typically outperform public schools in math, science, and reading.

Who pays for Catholic schools?

Like all private schools, Catholic schools charge tuition to enrolled families. However, Catholic schools tend to have the lowest tuition rates among private schools. In 2021, the average tuition rate for private elementary schools was $7,630. For Catholic schools, the average tuition rate was only $4,840.

Catholic schools understand that not every family can afford to pay the full tuition rate. Many Catholic schools offer tuition assistance programs or work with nonprofits like the Fulcrum Foundation to make sure that every student can afford the education they want. Fulcrum’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) assists families in 72 local Catholic schools, from Bellingham to Vancouver.

For more information about Fulcrum’s tuition assistance programs, visit

To be a part of Fulcrum’s life-changing mission, donate now using the link below. Thank you for making a difference for Catholic school students and families in Western Washington.

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