Discussion at St. Francis College Examines Tension Between Catholic, Charter Schools

March 20, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Charter schools were introduced as a way to improve the public school system through innovation and competition.

However, in New York, charters have had the unintended consequence of reducing enrollment at parochial schools across the state, said Abraham Lackman of the Albany Law School’s Government Law Center at the panel discussion “The Tension Between Catholic Schools and Charter Schools,” held at St. Francis College on Feb. 13.

St. Francis College and the Manhattan Institute hosted the event, which also featured Sol Stern, contributing editor of The City Journal; James Cultrara of the Catholic Conference; and Joe Williams of Democrats for Educational Reform.

Lackman, the Clarence D. Rapplyea government scholar in residence at Albany Law, pointed out that in the decade before the first charter schools 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 percent decline in kindergarten through sixth grade enrollment at parochial schools across the state.

Lackman 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, Lackman said that the parochial system is on the verge of collapse.

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, a change Stern says has left parochial schools with only the most dedicated teachers.

In response to Lackman’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.”

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 and Catholic schools had worked together on events like school fairs and marketing information to incoming kindergarten parents.

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

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