‘Fundamental existential threat’ to Catholic schools
Published on September 25th, 2012
By Dennis Poust
The Times Union of Albany today highlights a growing threat to Catholic education, namely the rise of charter schools. The story highlights a soon-to-be-published report by Abraham Lackman, scholar-in residence at Albany Law School, demonstrating the negative impact charters have had on Catholic schools in cities across the state.
Lackman notes that for every charter school that has opened in New York State in the last decade, a parochial school has closed. In the city of Albany, which has the state’s largest number of charters per capita, Catholic school enrollment has declined by 65 percent, with four out of seven Catholic elementary schools closing and the city’s lone Catholic high school seeing its enrollment drop by two thirds.
“I believe charter schools are a fundamental existential threat to the Catholic system and I don’t see how many will survive,” Lackman told the TU. “They are clearly marketing themselves as an alternative to parochial schools, which was never the intent.”
And it’s not just a New York problem. Education Week has a national story on the phenomenon in its August 29th issue:
“Since the nation’s first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992, the number of those independently managed public schools has risen steadily. Today, some 5,600 charter schools, serving about 2 million students, operate in 41 states and the District of Columbia.
“Meanwhile, the number of students in Catholic schools has fallen. Since 2000, 1,942 Catholic schools around the country have shut their doors, and enrollment has dropped by 621,583 students, to just over 2 million today, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. If that decline continues, charter enrollment will surpass that of Catholic schools for the first time this academic year, according to Sean Kennedy, a visiting fellow at the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va., who has examined the two systems.”
The New York State Bishops believe firmly in school choice, and therefore support the concept of charter schools, which increase choice for parents. However, the state cannot afford to let Catholic schools, which have a much longer and more successful track record than charters, fall victim to this experiment. Because inevitably, it is the kids who lose. For instance, as the TU story notes, St. Casimir School in Albany served inner city, at-risk kids and did a great job preparing them to excel. But after the opening of three nearby charters and a drop in enrollment St. Casimir’s closed. That was bad enough, but subsequently, two of the three charters were closed by the state due to poor performance, leaving kids with no place to turn other than troubled public schools.
If the state is to continue with the charter school experiment, it is more imperative than ever that it level the playing field for tuition-paying families in independent and religious schools, through a tuition tax credit and or an education investment tax credit that enable parents of limited means to select the most appropriate school for their child.
Read the full Times Union story here.