Saturday, September 08, 2007

D.C. Catholic Schools To Convert To Charters 

Today's front page of the Washington Post has a fascinating article by Theola Labbe and Jacqueline Salmon regarding the Archbishop Donald Wuerl's decision to convert eight of D.C.'s 28 Catholic schools into charters. The article is interesting to me for a couple of reasons.

First, it says a great deal about the academic strength of D.C.'s charter school movement. The article claims that the primary reason for the move is because students have left the catholic schools to attend charters.

"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.
The primary reason for these kid changing schools, of course, is that charters are free. But keep in mind that parents who would take their children out of traditional public schools and transfer them to private ones are highly motivated to provide them with a high quality education. I do not believe for one second that if the charter schools these students attend were inferior scholastically that they would be left there by their parents for one day.

The second aspect of this article that intrigues me is the whole business of the separation of church and state. As the article says:

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 stripped from the curriculum.
I don't think this needs to be the case. Please follow my reasoning. Five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Zelman decision, said that it was perfectly fine for Ohio students who were part of the private school voucher program to attend religious institutions. The Court accepted the libertarian argument that because the voucher funds are provided to the child and not to the school then there is no direct financial support of a particular faith, and therefore the separation of church and state is not violated.

Now in reality, voucher funds in Ohio are given to the family of the child, who then endorse them over to the school based upon the one the child selects. Well this in really not much different from the case with charters. In Washington D.C. the money follows the student. Whether the family sends the money to school or the school gets it to me is a technicality. Therefore I do not see why these Catholic schools cannot maintain their curriculum while becoming charters.

I have emailed attorney Clint Bolick to see if my reading of this is correct. Mr. Bolick, argued and won the Zelman case before the Supreme Court. He is also author of the fantastic book "Voucher Wars" which traces the history of the school choice movement in this country.

9/9/07 Update: Now that I read more of the Zelman decision I'm more convinced that it protects schools from being able to teach religion as long as tuition money is being driven by the student and does not constitute direct school aid.

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