The death of Catholic Schools?
There are 7,000 Catholic parochial schools in America according to the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA). The Roman Catholic schools are facing increasingly adverse economic and demographic conditions, which have undermined their finances and sapped their enrollment. Researchers and supporters say those schools face one of their most complex challenges yet: the continued growth of charter schools. Since they first opened two decades ago, charter schools have emerged as competitors to Catholic schools for reasons connected to school systems’ missions, their academic models, and the populations they serve.
Charter schools have their strongest presence in urban centers, traditional strongholds of Catholic education. Many charter schools have attributes similar to those offered by the church’s schools, such as disciplined environments, an emphasis on personal responsibility and character development, and distinctive instructional and curricular approaches.
Catholic schools are unable to compete with charter schools that look like them, have a longer school day and are free.
The nation’s first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992, the number of those independently managed public schools has risen steadily. Today, some 5,600 charter schools serving about 2 million students, operate in 41 states and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, the number of students in Catholic schools has fallen. Since 2000, 1,942 Catholic schools around the country have shut their doors, and enrollment has dropped by 621,583 students, to just over 2 million today.
Many of the woes of Catholic schools can be traced to the exodus of middle-income families from the cities. Catholic schools’ finances were also hurt by the costs associated with their increased use of lay teachers and a steep drop in the number of nuns, who had been the mainstay of the teaching force.