In response to declining enrollment and rising costs, a number of Catholic schools have been converted into charter schools, according to a new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice called "Sector Switchers."
The Friedman Foundation states that the Catholic archdioceses of Indianapolis, Miami, and Washington, D.C., have closed down Catholic schools, only to reopen them as independently managed public charter schools. However, charter schools must strip themselves of any Catholic identity during the school day. Because of that, some have attempted to offer religious after-school programs.
University of Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett wrote at the Mirror of Justice blog, “As a general matter, I would strongly prefer that Catholic schools remain Catholic schools -- schools where a Catholic mission and commitment pervades the entire enterprise…even if these charters are accompanied by various before- and after-school religious-education programs.”
Described as a “hybrid”—something between a private and public school— the administration and governance of such schools are assigned to the founding board. The charter application process requires the petitioners to outline specifics about their program. Charter school programs can mirror traditional Catholic educational environments for students by incorporating character/virtue education programs integrated into a classical curriculum. However, the mission can only be assured if Catholic leadership is present.
Charter schools don’t charge tuition, which increases their accessibility for the poor. These institutions can serve Catholic students from low socioeconomic areas where many Catholic school buildings sit vacant. Enrollment has increased significantly, especially among minority students, according to the Friedman Foundation report.
The study cites as an advantage that, as charter schools, these institutions are able to receive government funding based on the number of students who enroll.
The report further states that, while the trend increases the number of students in schools of their choice, “if the goal of school choice policy is to maximize the types of educational options available to families, private school choice programs must be developed so that strong charter laws don’t squeeze Catholic and other private schools out of the market.”
The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting school choice “as the most effective and equitable way to improve the quality of K-12 education in America.”
Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.