A growing number of Catholic schools are opting to become charter schools rather than close their doors permanently, reports Commonweal magazine (Dec. 4).
The declining state of Catholic education, particularly in inner cities, is convincing bishops in the dioceses of Washington, DC, Miami and Brooklyn to convert up to 16 parochial schools to charter schools—and more are likely to come, writes Paul Moses. Charter schools are public schools paid for by the government, yet are independent of local school districts and can be run by nonprofit or for-profit groups. In New York, the possibility of opening charter schools was rejected by Cardinal Edward Egan, but across the river in Brooklyn, the plan was accepted as a way to run values-based schools by non-profit boards, “likening them to Catholic social service agencies and hospitals that help the public with the aid of government funding.”
Many critics, however, see charter schools as competing with parochial schools, in effect cutting into the Catholic market in inner cities by offering free education along with such trappings as plaid uniforms and an emphasis on discipline and ethics. Research has shown that it is a distinct “inspirational ideology” that contributes to the success of Catholic schools, as well as discipline and high standards. So far, the seven charter schools that have opened in Washington have not reduced enrollment in the Catholic schools, Moses reports.
He concludes that “It may be that the values-based but non-religious charter schools will catch on and—much like health care and social services—become a ministry of the 21st century Catholic Church . . . But if the charter school option becomes the easy way out in the midst of financial and public relations crises over failing schools, it could lead to the end of the tradition of providing Catholic education to the poor.”
(Commonweal, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 405, New York, NY 10115)