NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Switching from Catholic Schools to Charters

May 6, 2014

Switching from private Catholic schools to charter schools significantly increased school enrollment, according to a new report from American Enterprise Institute research fellow Michael Q. McShane and resident scholar Andrew P. Kelly.

Catholic schools have seen enrollment declines over the last several decades. Chief among the reasons for the decline has been the rising cost of Catholic education, driven by the shift in teachers from clergy to lay educators. Additionally, according to an analysis by Stephanie Ewert for the U.S. Census Bureau, increased charter school enrollment has pushed private school enrollment downward. When their dioceses have been unable to provide sufficient funding for schools to keep their school doors open, many Catholic schools been forced to close.

But the archdioceses of Indianapolis, Miami and Washington, D.C., have taken a different approach. Rather that closing entirely, they have allowed their schools to reopen as independently managed, public charter schools.

  • St. Joseph's Parish school in Miami began seeing its enrollment numbers drop. In the 1997-1998 school year, 263 students were enrolled.
  • By August 2009, the school had just 130 students and was unable to operate without a financial loss.
  • But after closing its doors in May 2010, the school reopened in the fall as Mater Beach Academy, a public charter school. By 2012, the school had 470 students enrolled, receiving an A rating from the Florida Department of Education.

McShane and Kelly examined 18 schools that switched from Catholic schools to charters from 2008 to 2010 in Florida, Indiana, and Washington, D.C. Comparing school enrollment prior to the switch to enrollment in 2012, student enrollment at each school grew:

  • Seven schools saw enrollment more than double, while four schools saw enrollment grow by at least 50 percent.
  • Most schools -- 11 of the 18 -- had a higher percentage of minority students after the switch than they did before the switch to charters.
  • At four Florida schools, the percent of minority students grew by 25 percentage points.
  • Not only did the schools see increased enrollment growth, but the schools also performed well, ranging from average to above average performance.

Notably, transforming the schools to charters has provided dioceses with a significant revenue stream. It has given Catholic churches funds to support their other operations, as well as additional funds to support the Catholic schools still in operation and provide those students with tuition assistance.

Source: Michael Q. McShane and Andrew P. Kelly, "Sector Switchers: Why Catholic Schools Convert to Charters and What Happens Next," Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, April 29, 2014. 


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