Catholic charter schools risk losing their identity

Catholic schools that become charter schools are no longer “Catholic” in any sense of the word
By National Catholic Educational Association,

WASHINGTON– Are charter schools another way to keep Catholic schools alive, as some proponents suggest? Absolutely not, according to the president of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), the professional organization representing K through 12 Catholic education in schools and parishes. Writing in the September issue of NCEA Notes, NCEA President Karen Ristau dispels the notion that a Catholic charter school is a possibility. “Catholic school leaders must be very clear about the difference between charter schools and the goals and aims of Catholic education,” she wrote.

While explaining that charter schools were created to allow parents and educators the opportunity to explore innovative teaching methods and curriculum with autonomy, charter schools clearly remain “public schools, funded by public tax money,” Ristau said. “These schools provide parental choice in the local public school system, which typically offers few options to parents.” She added, “Charter schools may not teach religion or display any religious symbols; they may not allow prayer or religious activities. Students may sing songs about reindeers and Santa, but not about silent nights and the baby Jesus.”

On the other hand, “Catholic schools are, and must remain, places where faith and culture are intertwined in all areas, places of excellent secular and religious education. The Catholic faith is an integral part of the daily life of the school; the environment is permeated by faith and gospel values.”

Although financial distress may lead to the closing of a Catholic school and the opening of a charter school in the same location, “there must be no doubt that the resulting school is not a Catholic school,” the educational leader continued. “Secular values may be the foundation of the school’s charter, but they cannot be informed by faith and Catholic teaching.”

Ristau noted that, “following the creation of a charter school, many of the school personnel and students from the closed Catholic school may remain, but the original Catholic mission will be eroded as a direct result of the secular nature of the school. Over time, as new students and faculty enter the charter school, this erosion will continue.”

The NCEA, founded in 1904, is a professional membership organization that provides leadership, direction and service to fulfill the evangelizing, catechizing and teaching mission of the church. NCEA members include elementary schools, high schools, parish religious education programs and seminaries.

Contact: Barbara Keebler or Brian Gray, 800-711-6232; both with National Catholic Educational Association, [email protected]

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