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Private Schools Squeezed by Charter Competition


Teachers’ unions have been fighting a (mostly losing) battle against charter schools for nearly two decades, but the chief victims of the charter and voucher revolutions might not be public schools after all. Smaller private schools, including Catholic schools, face a crisis as they’re increasingly supplanted by charters.

In an excellent piece in The Atlantic, Chester E. Finn, Jr. explains why:

Alterations in the housing market may also play a role where K-12 private schools are concerned. Not long ago, one could live in a nice house in the city for a lot less than a nice house in the suburbs — and spend the money saved on private schooling for one’s kids. In gentrifying cities, however, that’s no longer so. Now one must pay more for a house in the city plus private school for the children. Thus, more parents are saying, “Forget it, I’ll go public — provided the public sector can be made to supply me with a good charter or magnet school, or a virtual-education supplement to a decent neighborhood school.”

For many of these schools, this may be a temporary problem: If voucher programs take off, private schools could compete for many of the students who couldn’t otherwise afford their higher tuition. But for Catholic schools, which make up about one-third of all private K-12 schools in America, this may not be a viable solution:

Most other modern countries have essentially melded their private-education sectors into their systems of public financing—and have accepted the tradeoffs that accompany such financing, namely government regulation of curriculum, teacher credentialing, student admissions and more. We can see early examples of this in the U.S., too, as vouchers gradually spread and private schools accommodate themselves to the state testing regimes and other rules that come with such financing.

This is apt to be a limited remedy, however, due to American church-state entanglement anxieties that other countries don’t share; prohibitions in many state constitutions that make such public financing difficult or impossible.

Via Meadia is glad charter schools are flourishing, but we also want parents to have as many options as possible. More voucher programs, and ones with greater flexibility, would allow parents to choose whether to send their child to a charter school, a traditional private school or, yes, a religious school. Education reformers ought to push in that direction even as charter schools continue to expand.

[School lockers image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • wigwag

    Maybe if the Roman Catholic Church had to shell out less money to compensate parishioners abused by priests it might have a little more money available to improve the quality of its parochial schools. Who knows; but for its failure to get rid of priests who fondled children, maybe the Church could have subsidized the tuition it charges to attend its schools.

    Maybe it’s the Roman Catholic Church not the Government which is the major combatant in Professor Mead’s “war on the young.”

  • Jim Luebke

    And with that, the Leftist opposition to charters drains away.

  • wigwag

    Professor Mead has advocated government funding for religiously affiliated schools before, but he never addresses the potential consequences of the policy he recommends for social comity in the United States.

    If it is constitutional for tax dollars to flow to religiously affiliated schools, it is surely unconstitutional for the Government to fund some religious institutions but not others. Surely the government is not permitted by the Constitution to privilege some religious content more than others.

    Most Americans would be fine with tax dollars underwriting tuition at Catholic schools; would they be as supportive of tax dollars supporting Muslim madrasahs? What if those madrasahs were affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and they indoctrinated school aged children with the credo, “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations?”

    What if the madrasah was affiliated with the Nation of Islam. Would most Americans be okay with biology courses that taught young children that white people are inherently evil because their ancestors were “ice people?”

    Would Professor Mead feel comfortable with tax dollars flowing to an ultraorthodox Jewish Yeshiva where teenaged boys were taught that it is sinful to risk brushing up against a mentrusting woman? How about a school established by scientologists; should tax dollars support that school too?

    In a society as diverse as ours, social comity is critical. Do we really want to risk government funding of religious beliefs that many if not most Americans would find repugnant?

    Aren’t we better off staying out of the quagmire which is the inevitable consequence of government supported religious schools?

    • Jim Luebke

      Public schools today advocate secular humanist “morals” that majorities of Americans find repugnant.

      If it’s a choice between the status quo and a risk of Orthodox Jews getting taxpayer money, I think we’ll face the risks.

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