dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Bloomberg, Bishop DiMarzio look to create charter schools

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn have announced that they are exploring whether to convert a number of Catholic schools in danger of closing into publicly funded charter schools in which religion could not be taught. During a news conference in City Hall, the bishop told the familiar story of the drowning man who turns down a series of rescue attempts, dies, and arrives in heaven with the question of why God did not save him. God responds that help was sent four times - why didn't the man take advantage of it?The mayor, the bishop said, "is throwing out a life preserver" with his offer to turn four of a group of 14 schools targeted for possible closing into charter schools.Even so, it is a life preserver most other bishops (as far as I know, only the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has gone this route) would likely turn down. It raises many questions. For example: Is religious education essential to the academic success of urban Catholic schools (by educating the whole person, body, mind spirit)?Another, noted in the New York Times' account, is the feeling among Catholic educators that the spread of charter schools is endangering the Catholic school system. At least superficially, the charter schools tend to resemble Catholic schools, with their small classes, safe atmosphere, more personal approach, uniforms, etc. The free tuition makes these schools very attractive to the parents of would-be Catholic school students.I would add that there is much the mayor and other public officials can do if they really want to save Catholic schools. For example, during Bloomberg's mayoralty, public schools have stopped Catholic high schools from recruiting applicants at high-school information nights held in middle schools. On the state level, Governor David Paterson recently pulled back from a plan to cut a program that provided $55 million a year to nonpublic schools to compensate for complying with state mandates to record and report attendance. But although money was budgeted in previous years, it was often not paid out. The public education bureaucracy can be quite hostile to Catholic and other nonpublic schools.Bishop DiMarzio noted that Catholic Charities provides extensive community service, and said that the charter schools would fall within that tradition of service. Others, such as the authors of a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, also have suggested turning some inner-city Catholic schools into charter schools.The problem is that this may hasten the demise of even more urban Catholic schools. And, contrary to what Mayor Bloomberg says, the charter schools are far from a proven success. One of the great strengths of the Catholic school system is that it has resisted the fads that sweep through public education. And if it should turn out a few years down the line that charter schools were just one more false hope, what will the alternative be if the Catholic schools have closed?

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

I don't think I understand quite how this would work. Would the diocese continue to own the property/buildings? Or would they just be turning it over to the city?

In this case, the diocese would continue to own the property.

... and more than likely, receive a hefty lease payment from the City, thus turning cost centers into surplus centers. Are we abandoning the poor for thirty pieces of silver?

What is the mission of Catholic education? If it is to ensure that all Catholics have access to Catholic schools, then the solution goes in one direction, because you don't need nearly as many schools as there are now for that purpose, at least not in the Bronx. If it is to maintain a sense of promise and hope in places where there isn't much to be found, then it goes in another. I would venture that in many of these schools, students have not been majority Catholic for some time. That's probably why charters are such an attractive alternative -- because the Catholic school was likely never a perfect fit to begin with. It may be that continuing with (let's say) a Catholic high school in an area that is served by good public charter elementary schools will continue to serve the poor more effectively now that others have started to offer the kind of hope and promise that only Catholic schools did for a long time.

Barbara, your idea about the good work Catholic high schools might do for the graduates of charter schools as well as Catholic schools is very good. Unfortunately, there is another trend here in the Big Apple. In the Archdiocese of New York, which doesn't include Brooklyn or Long Isalnd, a number of Catholic high schools have been informed in the past few weeks that they are immediately going to be cut loose from Diocesan support and control. If they survive at all, it will be because the new boards of trustees they are about to organize will be able to raise the necessary money that with tuition will keep them going. Some of these schools will make it, some probably won't. And the schools include several that traditionally have served minority students. A great legacy from Cardinal Egan to his zapparently imminent successor, whoever he may be. You'd have thought he could have waited a few weeks.

Sorry for the typo: "zapparently" should obviously have been "apparently."

If Catholic Education is essentially bound up with children, are we going in the right direction(because that's what we did in the past?) If Catholic education is a lifetime process, and I think it is, do we need to reassess what our educational roles are and the resources we pump into them?If parochial schools are meant to show our commitment to the needy by providing structure and learning and a way up (as the parochial schools did for my time and those before -although more students then were Catholic ), what do we do about our relationship with the State?(I note Bishop DiMarzio may need Albany help for example with getting Catholic school teachers certed to teach in charter schols. At the same time, he is complaing bitterly to Albany about possible opening of SOL in regard to sex abuse cases.)The Catholic High School situation in New York Archdiocese that Susan mentioned is particularly difficult, say, if schools in better endowed areas survive and say a place like Cardinal Hayes (which has had some poor publicity due to abuse allegations there recently) flounder if the alumni, which I'm told have been generous in the past, decide not to come through?The interelationship of money and mission continues to grow as problematic as the number of religious who performed nobly at little cost in the past declines.In the long run, who should have a say in all this beyond diocesan leaders? Money management advisers? Affected parents? The Catholic community of that diocese through reasonable reprtesentation? ?????

Oh, in this case, "zapparently" may be appropriately created and used!

I believe the US is alone among English-speaking nations in not funding or heavily subsidizing religious based primary education. Catholic schools are a valuable civic asset - communities that have Catholic schools are much better off for it. In addition, the salaries paid to Catholic school teachers is a scandal. School systems should fund Catholic schools. We can state-fund mortgages, banks and insurance companies, but not Catholic schools? Give me a break!

I also believe the US is alone among English-speaking nations in not being constitutionally permitted to have an establishment religion. This, I believe, is the distinction that makes the difference.

The establishment clause has not prohibited all sorts of state and federal aid to private universities and to the students who attend them. Why should primary and secondary schools be any different? The state's interest is in the education of its citizens. It should be neutral on the question of religious content of that education as long as it meets basic requirements in other areas.The only rational basis to oppose school vouchers for Catholic school students is that the Catholic schools don't meet those basic requirements that protect the compelling state's interest in the children's education. But, as numerous studies have shown, the Catholic schools do a better job in those areas than the public schools do.

"I also believe the US is alone among English-speaking nations in not being constitutionally permitted to have an establishment religion. This, I believe, is the distinction that makes the difference."AFAIK, the Catholic Church is not the "established" church in any of these countries, yet Catholic schools receive funding - in some cases, nearly all of it - from the state.As long as the government doesn't discriminate against a particular religion or denomination, or show preference for a particular one, in funding religious based education, it wouldn't run afoul of the Establishment Clause. True?

Jim, that does not accurately describe the state of the law as it pertains to the funding of primary and secondary religious schools. I am not going to do research, but it is my understanding that the only thing that has passed constitutional muster are vouchers that are provided to individual parents and children, who can pay tuition somewhere. It is also permissible for states to require municipalities to provide transportation to private schools. My point is that the funding of Catholic schools takes place in the context of a society that has an established religion and sees nothing impermissible about state funding of religion in general. That makes them different from the U.S. in a rather fundamental way.