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Oh Gee What A Surprise: Roman Catholics Trying To Start Secular Christian Values Charter Schools

Posted by Job on February 19, 2008

Still more evidence that conservative Protestant evangelicals have been taken for a ride by Rome.

D.C. may get 7 ‘values-based’ schools – USATODAY.com

For Catholic schools in the nation’s capital, it’s feast and famine these days.

Donors have helped the Archdiocese of Washington pump $60 million into its schools in the past decade. In 2004, Congress approved a $14 million voucher that paid tuition last year for more than 1,900 students.

But as in other big cities, shifting demographics have drained D.C. of families who want to send their kids to Catholic schools, even when it’s free. And Congress, which is controlled by Democrats, probably won’t renew the voucher program.

Meanwhile, the city is at the heart of the USA’s quiet love affair with privately run, publicly financed charter schools: One in five D.C. students attend a charter.

Faced with a $55 million long-term deficit and the looming closure of nearly half its schools, the archdiocese awaits approval of an unusual proposal: converting a handful of schools to secular “values based” charter schools that reflect Catholic morality but don’t overtly teach church doctrine.
FIND MORE STORIES IN: Washington | Congress | Catholic | Archdiocese | DC

The bid represents the largest of its kind so far — and though it stands a good chance of approval by the D.C. Public Charter School Board in April, it’s opposed by the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA), which says the schools will lose their greatest strength: their religious character.

“This isn’t a path for everyone,” says archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs. “But we look around at other dioceses and they close their doors. We couldn’t do that.”

An independent, non-profit board would run the seven proposed elementary schools, with no teaching of Catholic doctrine, no in-school prayer and no religious artifacts on the walls. In fact, none of the proposed charters would be considered “Catholic” schools. Essentially the archdiocese would act as a landlord.

In that sense, it’s similar to arrangements in places such as Buffalo, and Gary, Ind., where church schools have been transformed into non-religious charters.

“We’re sad that they can’t be Catholic schools,” NCEA president Karen Ristau says of the D.C. proposal. “There will be no religious doctrine or celebration of faith or prayer in the school day.”

Though charters enjoy freedom from most regulations on personnel, curriculum, budget and teaching methods, Ristau says religious instruction is still out. “As far as I know, there’s no wiggle room.”

In the past few years, charter schools in Florida, Minnesota and New York that have approached the line between values-based learning and religious instruction have run afoul of critics who say they’re ignoring the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on government sponsorship of religion.

Ristau calls proposals such as D.C.’s “a temporary solution to a serious problem” facing churches across the nation. Recent data from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate finds that though the percentage of Americans who are Catholic has remained steady since 1995, the number of Catholic elementary schools dropped about 10%; secondary schools have dropped 2.3%.

“At a time when we’re all trying to figure out how to create good public schools in the inner city, it’s a shame that good public schools in the inner city are going away,” says Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington education think tank.

Gibbs says the archdiocese is keeping its options open. If neighborhoods change, she says, “We still have the buildings. … In 10 years, we may want to open a Catholic school again.”

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2 Responses to “Oh Gee What A Surprise: Roman Catholics Trying To Start Secular Christian Values Charter Schools”

  1. Christian said

    Thanksgir your blog 🙂 God bless you

  2. Charles said

    You gotta be kidding right? Does the catch have anything to do with a source of federal funding will now be available because they have a crunch from settling those victim suits?

    Just notice where the Fairbanks, AK Diocese is filing for bankruptcy and I know how money those guys have. Chas

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