Archbishop Donald Wuerl has proposed converting eight of the District's 28 Catholic schools into secular charter schools in an effort to save them from closure. The archbishop said the archdiocese can no longer afford to keep them open.
The schools, which are located in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods, would receive operating and facilities funds from the District if converted. At this time, the archdiocese subsidizes a large portion of the students’ tuition. The schools would remain in their current buildings and pay rent to the parishes.
According to a report by the Washington Post, the archdiocese sent letters home with students yesterday explaining the proposal, which would take effect as soon as fall 2008 and impact 1,400 current students. Starting next week, individual schools will hold information sessions to solicit parent and community feedback. Archbishop Wuerl is expected to make a final decision next month.
The reaction to date has been negative. Some parents argue that the proposal strips the majority black student population of high-quality education.
Under a charter model, archdiocese officials said, the schools would still have strong values, but the schools' names would change and specific religious references would be removed from the curriculum.
The plan, which has been vetted by two church bodies and floated to city officials, would require the District to increase its budget for charter schools. Victor Reinoso, deputy mayor for education, said that the diocesan proposal is a possibility, reported the Washington Post.
The archdiocese’s proposal stems from a decade of financial losses at 12 inner-city schools and a yearlong study by a committee of 40 parents, teachers, and archdiocesan staff.
Of the 12 inner-city schools, eight would be converted to charters managed by a single secular entity selected by the archdiocese. The four others would remain Catholic.
Soon after Archbishop Wuerl arrived in Washington D.C. in June 2006, he said that he heard from Catholic education officials that the inner-city schools were no longer financially viable. Part of the reason was that many poor families were choosing charter schools, which are free.
"One by one, families left to go to charters . . . and it was a kind of steady drifting away," said Monsignor Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Roman Catholic Church in Southeast Washington, whose parish school, which dates to the 1920s, would be converted to a charter.
Msgr. Pope looks at the plan as a better alternative than shutting down. He told the Washington Post, "At least we'll be able to serve children in some capacity in our neighborhoods."