In urban communities such as the City of Saint Louis, parents are able to send their children to magnet, charter, or public schools at no cost. All the while, tuition-driven Catholic schools are facing record low enrollment. The graph below illustrates the decline of Catholic school enrollment in the U.S. from 1960 to 2010 at the elementary and secondary levels.
With rising costs of private school tuition and concerns about public school quality, parents choose free alternatives to public schools, often charter schools. These parents do not necessarily prefer non-secular education. As Carnegie Mellon University economics professor Maria Ferreyra showed, the number of parents who want to enroll their children in private [Catholic] schools is greater than the number of parents who can afford it.
For this reason, some Catholic schools “convert” to charter schools in order to continue serving low-income communities. In “Sector Switchers,” authors Mike McShane and Andrew Kelly analyzed this phenomenon.
They found that Catholic schools that become charter schools somewhat maintain their brand. They keep “…discipline, high expectations, and formation of moral values in students,” and throw out, “the financial issues that have plagued Catholic schools…”
The authors reached two conclusions: (1) switching leads to higher enrollment, and (2) switching increases minority student enrollment. Still, questions remain about how this practice will affect cities such as Saint Louis.
If you want to take part in the discussion, join the Show-Me Institute for the Friedman Legacy Day Policy Breakfast this Thursday. The event will include a presentation from McShane and panelists Matt Hoehner, Educational Enterprises regional executive director, and Corey Quinn, president of De Le Salle Middle School.