Virtual Voices

Catholic schools convert

Religion

Catholic schools are converting --- from private and religious to public and secular, a change that irks both conservatives and liberals. Underfunded Catholic schools in Denver and D.C. are seeking to become charter schools. Conservatives don't like the fact that the schools must drop all religious instruction to receive state funding, and liberals worry that the schools won't drop religious instruction at all.

Dan Lips, education analyst for the Heritage Foundation, told WoW the situation "underscores the need for real school choice policies that allow parents to choose between public or private or charter schools."

Lips said charter schools compete with private schools as a free alternative to public education, and the competition "threatens private schools." According to the Denver Post, the Escuela de Guadalupe School is struggling to raise $200,000 by November 30 because the parents they serve cannot afford $8,000 tuition. School president David Card calls the process "devastating. … But it's the reality."

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Charter schools have more autonomy than public schools, but they are still subject to state regulation and state testing. "Converting into a charter school would really sacrifice the independence that private and religious schools currently have," Lips said.

Lips advocates tax credits, school vouchers, and educational savings account so that parents can afford private school tuition. He notes that in Arizona, a state that provides tax credits for private school scholarships, Catholic schools are opening, not closing. Government funding often comes with governmental strings attached, but Lips said so far, offering tax credits has not led to excessive regulation.

Lips said if advocating charter schools "comes at the expense of ending the private education sector, it would be a shame." Offering "real school choice" will enable private schools to "compete on an equal playing field."

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