New research indicates that the expansion of charter schools can have a negative impact on the presence of Catholic education in the inner city.
According to the Goldwater Institute's Dr. Michael Ladner, a RAND Corporation study focusing on the impact of charter schools in Michigan found that private schools, on a student for student basis, faced more competition from charter schools than from public schools.
Ronald Nuzzi, director of the Alliance for Catholic Education Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame, claimed that charter schools are "one of the biggest threats to Catholic schools in the inner city, hands down."
"How do you compete with an alternative that doesn’t cost anything?” he asked.
Dr. Ladner reported that the Catholic Diocese of Detroit has witnessed a 20 percent decline in enrollment since 2002 and currently faces another round of school closures. Overall, 29 Diocese of Detroit schools have already closed.
The lack of a voucher program, shrinking numbers of religious staff, and parishioners' movement to the suburbs are all factors that make it more difficult for inner-city Catholic schools to support themselves financially. Dr. Ladner criticized what he called the "double payment penalty" required of parents who pay to send their children to private school but still support the public schools through taxes.
Charter schools' competition with parochial schools is especially severe because many of the best charter schools take inspiration from Catholic school practices, which have a strong record in educating disadvantaged students and preparing them for college. However, the charter schools are taxpayer-supported while private schools, including parochial schools, are not.
"It would be tragic and absurd to help drive these schools out of business by publicly funding student attendance to both public and charter schools, but not to private schools," Dr. Ladner wrote.
Dr. Ladner recommended tax credits and school vouchers to offset the "double payment penalty" phenomenon and to preserve Catholic education in the inner city. His study examining a successful tax credit program in Arizona appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Catholic Education.