Did you know in Arizona taxpayers have choices about where to direct their state taxes? If you have a desire to help families afford the education they choose for their children, sit back, listen and be inspired. You are listening to Creating Future Leaders with Catholic Education Arizona.


Introducing Domonic Salce


Nancy Padberg:

I’m Nancy Padberg, President and CEO of Catholic Education Arizona. Welcome to Creating Future Leaders. You’re probably wondering what Catholic Education Arizona does. We are a school tuition organization, we accept tax credit contributions from individuals and corporations and turn them into scholarships for students. At CEA, we create future leaders.


I’m pleased to share today’s guest is Superintendent of schools in the Diocese of Phoenix and a current Board Member at Catholic Education Arizona. He has been working in the Catholic school’s office since 2014, first as Assistant Superintendent, then Superintendent for the past year. He is a native of Arizona, with 25+ years in public education. Thanks for being with us.


Dominic, can you share a little bit more about yourself with our listeners today?


Domonic Salce:

Thanks, Nancy. And thanks for inviting me to record a podcast with you today. So a little bit about me: I grew up in the White Mountains here in Arizona in a little small town, and then traveled to the Valley for college, so I attended Arizona State University. I’ve been here ever since. I’m married to my lovely wife, Julia, who’s also an educator. And we have two wonderful children-Katie, who is 10, and Matthew, who is for going on 14 at any moment in time. And both of them are attending Catholic schools here in the Diocese as well.


Nancy Padberg:

Wonderful. We’re thrilled to get a few minutes of your time, we know you’re very busy, so we want to make sure and dive into some of these questions. So we work closely with our schools, as you know, and Catholic education is thriving in the Diocese of Phoenix. So we’re really excited to talk to you today to find out more. What do you see as the strengths of our Catholic schools?


The Value of Catholic Schools


Domonic Salce:

Well, of course, I might be a little biased in all this conversation. But I truly believe we are. There are many strengths associated with our Catholic schools that are not possible to gain anywhere else. And most importantly, our schools are centered in Christ, and are places of encounter with Christ, so we exist as a part of the Catholic Church and provide families an opportunity to directly integrate the Catholic faith into the day-to-day aspect of education for their children.


Don’t get me wrong, there are many quality educational options for families in Arizona. And that is a blessing. But Catholic schools are Catholic schools. They are education institutions that allow the direct incorporation of faith and morals with the academic, extracurricular, and social aspects of school. We are able to focus on the mind, body, and spirit. That’s a little different than our colleagues and counterparts in the public school, and many private schools.


I also believe another strength of our schools is a spirit-filled community that is developed with our families. We don’t only focus our attention on just the academic dimensions or extracurricular, but we integrate families together with the school as we celebrate mass together, participate in prayer, provide ongoing spiritual formation, and create a close knit family for each other in good times and bad.


Those are just a couple of strengths of our Catholic schools in the diocese of Phoenix of which we’re proud to be a part of, to our families.


Recapping This Past Year


Nancy Padberg:

And how many schools do we have now, both high school and grade school?


Domonic Salce:

So as we look at our high schools, we have six Diocesan high schools. And we have, of course, one private Jesuit school that we work with as well. We have 29 elementary schools, and many people forget that the Diocese of Phoenix isn’t just right here in the metro area. The Diocese is quite large and may expand all the way up and East. So we have schools not only here in the Phoenix metro area, but we have Catholic Elementary School in Cottonwood, in Prescott, in Flagstaff, and all the way over in Lake Havasu.


We also have 29 preschools, some of those connected with the elementary schools, and some of those freestanding in the Diocese as well. So we’re a pretty large organization of schools.


Nancy Padberg:

Excellent, thank you. Well, we have just overcome many challenges over the past year and my understanding is that our Catholic schools did a good job with this. Can you tell us a little bit about COVID and how it affected our schools. What has surprised you about their resilience?


Domonic Salce:

I have to admit, this has been a very difficult time for anyone in education, dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude flips things upside down for quite a while. But our schools did their very best to adjust to the challenges presented in order to continue to provide students with a quality Catholic education.


We also appreciate the partnership with organizations like CEA who help schools provide technology equipment to students who may not have been able to afford these devices otherwise. So it was a wonderful partnership that we were able to come together with to support families and support our schools.


With the pandemic, when we were doing online school, for example, I am not surprised by the resilience of our schools, but more so I’m proud of all of our hardworking teachers and school administrators for being able to adjust so dramatically to meet the needs of their students. Nothing is perfect, and we didn’t have a perfect transition either. But they gave their all to support the kids in the families.


Of course, we have to also recognize the adjustment of our families, especially last year. Personal experience right here! And children who were at home and having to adjust to that. But I think that we owe our educators a pat on the back, a high five, a thank you for all of the work that they’ve done over that this past 15 months to really try to continue to provide a solid Catholic education for the students.


Tax Credit Scholarship Expansion


Nancy Padberg:

You’re right, high five, indeed. The crisis that they’ve been through, navigated through and really led through, and now we’re on the other side and I think pretty good in our schools. So why don’t talk a little bit about Arizona legislation. This last year, we expanded the tax credit scholarship opportunities for more families to qualify. How do you see this expansion helping schools as they seek to grow their enrollments?


Domonic Salce:

I appreciate the expansion of opportunities for families to make educational choices for their children. I think that’s where we have to really focus on. It allows families in Arizona to make choices for their children’s education. Again, there are many choices in Arizona, and there are many quality education institutions that are out there. So I think that what this did is just expanded that opportunity for more people, more families to be able to engage in that dialogue of what’s the best educational opportunity that I have for my children to attend. And so that’s really where we’re wise.


It expanded that opportunity for more people. And these new options will provide more opportunity, more choices that they want for their children. Catholic school is an option that many of our families within the Church and even outside of the Church want to take advantage of just because of what we offer.


And so the schools are open, they are willing and able to provide information and tours to anybody, any family who wants to come in to check them out. They’re all available for you. And they’re there to answer your questions to support. And then of course, the tax credit options in the expansion really does allow more families that opportunity to come in.


Disabled Displaced Scholarships


Nancy Padberg:

Right. To your point, we’re so fortunate to be here in Arizona. There’s only 21 states that have this kind of legislation. So for us to be able to provide this for our children and families is just an incredible blessing. And we’re seeing just these incredible statistics and graduation rates and matriculation to college. We really are blessed here in the Diocese to have this kind of program.


So I’m going to switch gears a little bit and we’re going to talk about something new at Catholic Education Arizona. We received-for the first time-$1 million in Disabled Displaced Scholarships. So what does that mean? We have not participated in this legislation before. So now that we have, we’re able to provide over two years of Disabled Displaced Scholarship funds.


What are the Catholic schools doing to best serve the needs of the students that qualify for this particular scholarship?


Domonic Salce:

So our Catholic schools have seen an increase in families with special needs children desiring Catholic education. Unlike the public schools that generally-I know there’s also difficulties there too-but generally, have many more resources to provide services to special populations of children. Our Catholic schools are limited, although they do a wonderful job working with children to meet their individual needs despite the lack of funding.


Having Disabled Displaced Scholarships, though, will both enable families to obtain a Catholic education they desire for their children and will assist and empower the school to be able to provide those specialized services a child might need to be successful.


I think that combination is important to understand, that the Catholic schools are always open and willing to provide what they can to children-to all children. But when it comes to special education and special needs, they may not have the resources available right there at that school to do that. The Disabled Displaced Scholarship changes that a bit and allows the funding mechanism to be there to support the child so that the school can get those services that are needed.


And so we’re overjoyed that Catholic Education Arizona entered this needed area. And we hope that we will see it expand for those families who desire a Catholic education for their children that may have special needs, and that the school is then able to provide those specialized services that they may not have been able to afford before.


Nancy Padberg:

And what’s really important to mention, this also covers foster children as well.


Domonic Salce:

So that’s correct. So that expands another opportunity for students be able to participate in our Catholic school.


Nancy Padberg:

Yes, so very exciting that we get to participate in this and just see the ability for families and students to be able to take advantage of this. To learn more about that for our listeners, certainly go to our website, or give us a call to learn more about the Disabled Displaced Scholarship funds.


So parents who wish to send their children to Catholic schools depend on tax credit scholarships to help with tuition. In our 24 years, we have awarded over $288 million in scholarships and about 143,000 scholarships overall. So these tax credit scholarships are important. And we know that they do help the Catholic schools and the families.


What words of wisdom would you share with people to help them understand the importance of this participation as contributors, and these corporate and individual giving programs to support CEA?


State Tuition Tax Credit


Domonic Salce:

I think the first thing that I would say is that the state tuition tax credit is vitally important to assist families. When I was in public education as a teacher, I remember when the program started. And over the past 25 years that we’ve been provided this opportunity for our families, I think it’s even grown exponentially how important this is to support families in making those choices.


Here’s what I would say-it is true, that you can provide and redirect your tax dollars, or these tax credits to support families. What’s shocking is so many people don’t understand or feel that it’s really not true. It’s a fact. And it’s been around for quite a while now. It is not too good to be true. It is actually true that you can donate your tax dollars to Catholic Education Arizona, that it will provide scholarships to families to send their children to Catholic education. It’s that simple.


What I would recommend is not only focusing on the individuals out there who have tax liabilities to the state, but also the corporations. It is so critically important that we get the word out to our corporations, that it’s really that simple.


If you owe taxes to the state, you can redirect those taxes to Catholic Education Arizona to help those families who are in need of support, who meet a certain criteria for a poverty level. They’re the children whose families may not be able to afford a Catholic education or any type of choice option. That’s where these dollars on the corporate side goes to help those families most in need. So I think that it’s something that has passed now for 24 years, 25 years. And people still don’t think it’s true. Well, it is. It is true.


It’s easy to do. Contact Catholic Education Arizona, it’s easy-pick up the phone, go to their website, they’ll explain it all to you. They’ll make sure that you understand how it works. They’ll walk you through the process for either a corporate or an individual tax credit process that you might have. And those funds will immediately go to help children receive a quality Catholic education in our Diocese.


Night of Hope and Catholic Education Arizona’s Support


Nancy Padberg:

Dominic, thank you. I couldn’t have said it better.


It’s companies of all sizes and industries as well. So I’d be remiss in just really saying thank you to Earnhardt Auto Centers, Grand Canyon University, Shey Holmes, APS, Arizona Bank and Trust, Cigna, Lumen Technologies. We really have-gosh, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 to 130 depending on the year-corporate contributors. So again, doesn’t matter the industry, doesn’t matter the size, give us a call. We can walk you through it, we’re more than happy to. It’s a really simple process.


So, any upcoming events to share, Dominic?


Domonic Salce:

So thanks for asking. We do have an upcoming event on November 4th, we will be celebrating, once again, our Night of Hope. So we’ve had Night of Hope for a number of years. And our night of Hope event this year will be virtual. Again, we did this for the first time last year because of the pandemic. And we were so successful that we felt that we wanted to do it again in a virtual format.


So our Night of Hope is this event that helps the Catholic schools office here. The Diocese of Phoenix supports the Catholic schools and their families who might be in an emergency situation where they just can’t afford to pay tuition. Even though there’s many opportunities, for example, like tax credits that are available, that doesn’t always necessarily equate to a tuition being completely paid for.


So what Night of Hope tries to do, is it tries to solicit to our donors and our donor base out there, to ask them for help knowing that there are still needs for families who may get the gift themselves in an emergency situation. Maybe there’s a death in the family, maybe there’s a job loss in the family, maybe there’s emergency medical needs that pulled the funds of the family towards paying those medical expenses, and they can’t afford the remainder of their tuition for Catholic school.


We don’t want that to be a roadblock for our students. We don’t want that to be a roadblock for families. So every year for Night of Hope, the Catholic schools office in the Diocese of Phoenix provides this opportunity to come together. We’re going to offer a very quick 30-minutes-or-less virtual event to help folks understand the needs that are out there and how your support will truly be utilized to help our families that are in need in these emergency situations. So November the 4th will be the event, it will be virtual, we’ll be sending out email invitations.


We will also partner, of course, with Catholic Education Arizona as one of our main sponsors. Thank you very much CEA, for supporting this event. And Catholic Education Arizona will also help us probably distribute some of these emails to folks to sign up to be a part of the other night. So we invite everybody to participate, it’s free to participate, to get online to watch this virtual event. But we also would hope that deep in your hearts, you would also provide potential donation to support that need for a Night of Hope in that emergency for our families.


Nancy Padberg:

Night of Hope is a special evening, so I can’t wait. I’m really looking forward to it. And we are a proud sponsor. And we just can’t say enough about educating students and children, it’s really a gift for life. And as they navigate life, they get to have these strengths of academics and spiritual strengths. So with that, to learn more about how you can create future leaders with Catholic Education Arizona, visit www.CatholicEducationArizona.org or call us at 602-218-6542.


We are very fortunate to have Dominic with us today. And anything else you want to add, Dominic?


Domonic Salce:

I just want to again, thank you, Nancy. I want to thank Catholic Education Arizona for being such great partners with us over these 24 years that you’ve been in existence. It has been essential for our schools and just so wonderful for families to be able to connect with CEA, and be able to afford Catholic education due in part to much of the effort that CEA has done over the years. So thank you very much.


And thank you to all the donors who have donated your tax liability to Catholic Education Arizona over the years and we hope you continue to do that for years to come.


Nancy Padberg:

And thank you for being one of our board members. Thank you for your wisdom and guidance. And thank you for being with us today.


Thank you to our listeners who spent some time with us. And as we always say, it’s a great day at CEA.


You have been listening to Creating Future Leaders with Catholic Education Arizona. For more information visit us at www.CatholicEducationArizona.org.