Saturday, November 10, 2007

Goldwater Institute: Sound the Alarm

Are Charter Schools the Death Knell of Inner City Private Schools?

By Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

The Education Next article "Can Catholic Schools Be Saved?" asks the provocative question: Will charter schools finish off inner city Catholic private schools? The author cites a RAND Corporation study that found private schools in Michigan lose one student for every three students charter schools gain.

Writing in the latest issue of the Journal of Catholic Education, I detailed a more hopeful example than Michigan: Arizona. Total charter school enrollment is 12.5 percent higher in Arizona than in Michigan, despite the fact that Michigan's population is 70 percent larger.

Catholic education is anything but wilting in Arizona. Between 2004 and 2006 schools in the Diocese of Phoenix saw a two percent increase in enrollment against a national decline. Two new Catholic schools opened in the 2006-2007 school year, with four more scheduled to open.

Arizona private school attendance has increased outside of the Catholic schools as well. Despite the opening of hundreds of charter schools, the percentage of Arizona children attending private schools increased by 23 percent between 1991 and 2003, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That said, Arizona remains well below the national average in private school attendance.

Arizona's story proves that it is possible to have robust public and private school choice. States with only public school choice programs, however, do seem to be witnessing the demise of inner city private schools. This makes some sense: how can private schools compete against "free" charter schools? But in Arizona, tax credits and some modest vouchers make it easier for private schools to compete against free charters.

Inner city private schools have long histories of educating disadvantaged children. The last thing these students need is another door to opportunity closed.

Dr. Matthew Ladner is the vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.

No comments: