Rising charter school enrollment seen as challenge for Catholic schools
For the first time, more children are enrolled in charter schools than in Catholic schools, reported the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va., that focuses on the role of federal government in education reform, tax reform and national security.
“Our clients are going elsewhere; we have to do something different or we’re going to close down,” said Joseph Womac, executive director of the Fulcrum Foundation, an organization providing financial help to promote and support the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Womac was part of a panel discussion Oct. 16 at The Catholic University of America in Washington on “Building 21st Century Catholic Learning Communities,” which is the title of a new study by the institute.
The event included a dozen speakers representing Catholic education, Catholic organizations, inner-city schools and charter schools.
According to the National Catholic Educational Association, 1,942 Catholic schools, or 23.8 percent, have closed in the past decade. Secondary schools are doing better than elementary schools. Sean Kennedy, visiting fellow at the Lexington Institute, said current tuition rates have caused much of the enrollment decline.
Between 1998 and 2010, the average Catholic school tuition more than doubled, from $4,300 to $8,800, which is a “huge financial burden for even upper-middle-class families with multiple children to send to school,” Kennedy said. “This has led to people choosing charter schools over Catholic schools.”
According to the latest available data, Catholic school enrollment stood at 2,031,000 students for 2011-2012 and 2,056,000 for public charter schools in the United States, Kennedy told Catholic News Service later. He said the figures were based on data from NCEA, the U.S Department of Education and other sources.
Preserving Catholic schools “does not mean keeping things the same,” Womac said. “If we keep things the same, we will get the same results, and they haven’t been good.”
Panelists agreed charter schools are not the only reason for the decline in Catholic school enrollment. Changes in demographics within the church also accounts for the shift, Womac said.
“We need to talk about how we’re going to serve the next generation of Catholic immigrants,” he said, “because from a business perspective they’re half of the client base, and only 3 percent of them are choosing Catholic schools.” [More]