The Future of Urban Education?

Here in our nation’s capital, many are abuzz about our visit from Pope Benedict XVI.  It isn’t often that a U.S. city gets a visit from his Holiness.  And this is this Pope’s first visit to the United States.

With so many U.S. Catholics descending on Washington, DC and New York City as part of the visit, it is no wonder that talk about Catholic issues has been on the rise.  What is particularly interesting is that much of that talk has focused on the future of Catholic schools here in the good ole U.S. of A.

For years, Catholic schools were seen as a beacon of hope in urban public districts that folks had long given up on.  Parents, regardless of their own religious affiliation, would save their pennies to send their kids to Catholic schools.  Here in DC, when the voucher program was adopted five or so years ago, DC Catholic schools were the ones who felt the brunt of new enrollments (and who accepted new students for the cost of the voucher, regardless of what the sticker price of the education may have been).

Recognizing this, the Fordham Foundation has released a new study on the future of America’s urban Catholic schools.  If you haven’t seen it already, it is worth a look — http://www.edexcellence.net/foundation/publication/.cfm?id=383.  And as usual, Mike Petrilli’s discussion of the report and the general topic in The Washington Post and other media has been an interesting one.

The interesting sidecar to that report is what is going on here with Catholic schools in Washington.  Due to vouchers and other actors, DC’s Catholic schools have been asked to educate more and more students with fewer and fewer resources.  The number of Catholic students enrolling in the schools is dwindling, and DC parishioners are being asked to shoulder the costs of providing a Catholic education to a growing number of non-Catholics.

As a result, the DC Archdiocese is working to transform many of its Catholic schools into public charter schools.  If the plan works, the schools would receive appropriate funding from the District and the schools would remain open and could continue to serve a growing population seeking its services.  Teachers and classroom rules would remain the same.  Yes, it means that the traditional religious instruction provided by those schools would need to be removed.  And we would have to hope that such a removal would not affect the overall impact of instruction.  Simply put, it is a bold move by the Archdiocese, as it seeks to provide high-quality, effective education to all those who want it.

It does beg the question as to the true future of urban education.  If DC is successful, it could serve as a model for inner-city Catholic schools across the nation.  Running a school system is expensive, and it is a lot to ask parishioners to pay an increasing tab for students who may never join the Church and may never become members of the Catholic community.  But does Catholic school lose something when you remove the Catholic?

The Fordham folks are correct in noting urban Catholic schools are doing a lot of good when it comes to education.  As a nation, we want to support school success in all of its forms, knowing we can learn from all forms and all offerings.  But Eduflack has to ask, is the future of urban education one of Catholic education or charter school education?

We just may have to wait to see how DC turns out to know for sure.  If we can figure out a way to keep Catholic school instruction, discipline, and outcomes, but deliver it in a public or public charter shell, we may just have a winning combination for communities in need. 

And those seeking Catholic education can always turn to CCD like so many of us.

One thought on “The Future of Urban Education?

  1. The constitutional lawyer running for President said today that “as someone who used to teach constitutional law, I believe deeply in the separation of church and state, but I don’t believe this partnership will endanger that idea – so long as we follow a few basic principles….federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs.” But District taxpayer funds apparently CAN subsidize Catholic education at 4 parochial schools that continue to offer Catholic education, as part of the lease agreement to use 7 former parish parochial schools for the public charter schools–the District’s rent money delivers a cool $1 million a year to four Catholic schools! Under the terms of the lease, the charter operator for the 7 former parish parochial schools (now public charter schools) pays rent to the 7 parishes for use of their school buildings. The rent money comes from D.C. taxpayers. The rent money doesn’t all stay at those 7 parishes, however. Starting Year Two and in perpetuity, the distribution of rent money is as follows:  45% goes to the parishes playing landlord to the 7 CCPCS public charters, and  45% goes to the parish schools that will continue to provide religious education as Catholic Schools, namely Sacred Heart School in N.W.; St. Anthony School in N.E.; St. Francis Xavier School in S.E.; and St. Thomas More School in S.E. 10% goes to the parish reserve fund for on-going extraordinary capitol repairs (boilers, roofs, etc.)That seems an obvious violation of separation of church and state to me. What about you?

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