Charter schools contribute directly to the collapse of Catholic schools in the inner city, according to new research by Abraham Lackman, a scholar in residence at the Albany Law School in New York. With the help of a friend, I got an URL: And here is a report of his findings in the New York Daily News:

Lackman was chief of staff for the New York State Senate Finance Committee between 1995 and 2002, which included the year (1998) when the legislature authorized 200 charter schools. In a paper called “The Collapse of Catholic School Enrollment: Dissecting the Causes,” Lackman demonstrates that Catholic schools close as charters open.

Catholic school enrollments dropped precipitously in the nation and in New York state over the past decade.  In New York state, K-8 enrollments in Catholic schools fell by a staggering 43%, from 202,000 to 115,000 from 2000 to 2010. Charter schools were not the only cause of the decline—demographics and the cost of keeping the schools open played a role too–but the advent of charters, he says, was a “significant and growing factor.” Between 2006 and 2010, 89 Catholic schools closed in New York state as 95 charter schools opened. About 30% of the students who leave Catholic schools go to charters.

He estimates that every new charter draws 100 students from Catholic schools. As another 280 new charters open in New York—thanks to Race to the Top—Catholic schools will lose another 28,000 students to charters. In the competition with chartesr, he says, the outlook for Catholic education is bleak.

It is not hard to see why charters would drive Catholic schools out of business. When a charter opens in a working-class neighborhood, it  blankets the area with flyers and posters and postcards promising to provide a rigorous, college preparatory education for free. “For free” matters. The poor and working-class families that typically rely on Catholic schools in urban districts have trouble paying even a modest fee of $3,000-5,000 per child.

There is a difference, however. The Catholic schools have a proven record. They are safe, well-disciplined, and get consistently good results. Many of the new charters are not good schools and will not provide a quality education. They are almost certain to have a high turnover of both teachers and principals, offering not a community but instability.

A large part of the Catholic schools’ success derives from the fact that they are faith-based and that they sustain a sense of genuine community, as well as stability. To me, and I am not Catholic, the success of Catholic schools depends on maintaining their religious identity, that is, keeping the crucifixes in the classrooms as well as the freedom to speak freely about one’s values. If Catholic schools turn themselves into charters hoping to survive, they make a huge mistake. They will have to abandon their religious identity, give up the faith-based nature of their school. That is no way to save Catholic schools.

As a supporter of both public education and Catholic education, I have a solution to the dilemma. Public money for public schools, and private money for Catholic schools. Just think of the billions that have been poured into charter schools for a tiny percentage of the nation’s students (is it 4% now?). Imagine if the same money—or even half of it—had been devoted to building a foundation for the future of Catholic education. We would then have a far better public school system, free of the internecine battles over resources between public school parents and charter parents. And Catholic education, which serves its students so faithfully and so well, would be preserved for future generations.

Note to philanthropists and hedge fund managers: Can’t you see the great return on investment that would come from saving Catholic schools in urban districts?