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February 13, 2012

The Tension Between Catholic Schools and Charter Schools

Charter Schools were introduced as a way to improve the public school system through innovation and competition, but in New York, those Charters have had the unintended consequence of reducing enrollment at Parochial Schools across the state, says Abraham Lackman of the Albany Law School’s Government Law Center at the panel discussion The Tension Between Catholic Schools & Charter Schools held at St. Francis College February 13.

St. Francis College and the Manhattan Institute hosted the event which also included Sol Stern, Contributing Editor of The City Journal; James Cultrara of The Catholic Conference and Joe Williams of Democrats for Educational Reform. (Watch the story on NET TV)

Lachman, the Clarence D. Rapplyea Government Scholar in Residence at Albany Law, pointed out that in the decade before the first Charter School opened in New York State, enrollment at Catholic Schools was steady or even increased slightly. However since the first Charter Schools were approved and opened in 1999 and 2000, there has been a 46% decline in kindergarten through sixth grade enrollment at Parochial Schools across the state. Lachman says that some of the decline is due to changing demographics and pressures that push students to public schools, but that more than a third of the lost students are now going to Charter Schools. Looking at future trends and the continued increase in the number of Charter Schools, Lachman says that the Parochial system is on the verge of collapse. (Watch the entire Catholic / Charter discussion)

Sol Stern talked about the historical context of the changes in the education system. He pointed out that an enormous amount of money has gone into the public schools and resulted in huge salary increases. This doubled the gap between public and private school teachers to about $50,000; something Stern says has left Parochial Schools with only the most dedicated teachers.

In response to Lachman’s statement that Catholic Schools are on the verge of collapse, James Cultrara said, “We’re not a retail chain of stores. Independent, religious schools run by faith based communities are mission driven. Those things will remain even if the means has to change.” Cultrara backed up that commitment by pointing out that the vast majority of economic support for independent schools comes in the form of tuition from parents who are already paying to support the public schools with their tax money.

Joe Williams talked about the importance of a level playing field for public, charter and Catholic schools. He said parents should be able to choose from excellent schools of all types, a failing school of any type should never be an option. He pointed to an example in Harlem where Charter Schools and Catholic Schools had worked together on things like school fairs and marketing information to incoming kindergarten parents.

The Tension Between Catholic Schools & Charter Schools was produced in cooperation with Albany Law School and The National Review.

St. Francis College Scholar in Residence Fred Siegel organized the event and has been instrumental in bringing a number of timely and provocative events to the College. Past forums hosted by St. Francis College and the Manhattan Institute include What Happened to All the Good Men?, Is the New York Times Good for Democracy?, Independent Voices of the Middle East and Young Voters and the 2012 Election.

Attached Photo: Joe Williams (Democrats for Educational Reform), Fred Siegel (St. Francis College Scholar in Residence), Abraham Lachman (Albany Law School’s Government Law Center), Sol Stern (Contributing Editor of The City Journal), James Cultrara (The Catholic Conference), Timothy Houlihan (Provost, St. Francis College)

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