Charter schools called threat to Catholic schools

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has refused to sell or lease vacant school buildings to charter schools because it has found that charter schools are siphoning students away from Catholic schools, according to the Baltimore Sun.The decision highlights the sharply conflicting approaches that U.S. dioceses are taking to competition from charter schools, since Baltimore's next-door neighbor, the Archdiocese of Washington, turned over seven of its former schools to be used as charters. My own diocese, Brooklyn, is very active in leasing properties to charter schools - encouraged by Mayor Bloomberg, a big supporter of charter schools.The Archdiocese of Baltimore will no doubt take some heat for resisting the rush to charter schools, which are publicly funded. But I think it is a thoughtful stand.Charter schools, pet projects of both powerful foundations and powerful elected officials, have produced mixed results. In many ways, they emulate Catholic schools and so are drawing away students who might otherwise go to the Catholic schools. The foundation and government officials who are pushing charter schools - the Gates Foundation, the Obama administration, and others - have an obligation to face up to the fact that they are contributing to the demise of Catholic schools.Perhaps this decision in Baltimore will help them to realize what they are doing to the Catholic schools.Update: The Sun ran a statement from Archbishop Edwin O'Brien saying that the Baltimore archdiocese is not refusing all requests to lease to charter schools. Rather, it has refused to do so in one specific case. (Thanks to Jack Barry for noting this change in the comments.)

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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