The Public Option


Is converting Catholic schools into charter schools better than letting them close? In a growing number of dioceses, that’s precisely the step bishops are taking. In the Archdiocese of Washington, seven previously Catholic schools are in their second year as publicly funded charter institutions. This fall, eight formerly Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Miami opened as charters. And the Diocese of Brooklyn recently applied to New York State to convert one of its schools.

More dioceses are likely to follow suit as they lose the ability to maintain schools in poorer neighborhoods. An influential report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute—Who Will Save America’s Urban Catholic Schools?—encourages bishops to consider charters as an alternative to closings. The study noted that many endangered Catholic schools serve large non-Catholic populations. “In a way, they already are ‘public’ schools; it’s time they receive public funds,” the study argues.

Charter schools are public schools, paid for by government but independent of the local school district and run by nonprofit boards or for-profit companies. While they are free from some regulations that arguably stymie education, such schools must be nonsectarian. Despite that restriction, charters are becoming an increasingly attractive option for bishops trying to cope with the financial obstacles Catholic schools...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, 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).