Bombarded with the closing of Catholic schools the question remains - what options are available...and is there any light at the end of the tunnel? I think the answer is yes, if Catholics (priests and laity) are ready and willing to make the necessary changes.
The problem took fifty years to fully unfold and will take years to rebuild. The issues are complex and vary in every state, city, diocese and parish. Keep in mind that about 25% of all Catholic schools currently open are doing something right as they sit with long waiting lists – the challenge is to address the remaining schools with an eye to new options and models, such as:
Regionalization: this is a growing option forced by default. That is, as parish schools are closed they are merged into more cost effective regional schools. Advantages of this: control of the school and its curriculum move away from the parish priest (who often has little training or background in running a school, and yet can unilaterally make decisions affecting the school) to a regional and more professional school board. This also moves to a financial model that spreads the cost among more of the faithful (more on that tomorrow.)
Charter Schools: identified as one of the precipitating factors that led to the closing of Catholic Schools, there are many, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington DC, who actually feel this is actually a win-win model for Catholic education. In the nation’s capital, twelve Catholic schools were converted to Charter Schools. How did that fare? Click here for a full published report. Lawrence Weinberg, in his 2007 book, Religious Charter Schools: Legalities and Practicalities, explains how faith-based organizations can make use of the chartering mechanism within current laws (by "accommodating" religion, not "endorsing" it), and gives examples of schools across the nation that seem to be testing the legal boundaries.
Vouchers: There are a variety of variations on this concept including educational vouchers and tax credits. It was strongly supported and argued in favor of by Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman who stated that competition would improve schools and cost efficiency. While supported by New Jersey’s current governor, it has yet to be passed in this state. But just last year Indiana passed its voucher law, bringing needed funding to 250 approved schools, of which 177 were Catholic.
So who picks up the tab for all of this?