The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Advancing Milton and Rose D. Friedman's Vision of School Choice for All Children

Sector Switchers: Why Catholic Schools Convert to Charters and What Happens Next

Released: 4/29/2014

Author(s): Michael Q. McShane, Andrew P. Kelly

For decades, Catholic schools, particularly inner-city Catholic schools, have seen declines in enrollment and an increasing need for subsidies from their dioceses. Many dioceses, however, have been unable to shoulder that burden, forcing schools to close. In response to difficult financial circumstances, the archdioceses of Indianapolis, Miami, and Washington, D.C., put a new twist on the typical story, “closing” a set of their inner-city schools, but allowing them to reopen as independently managed public charter schools.
That phenomenon raises interesting questions about the future of urban Catholic schooling. In this paper, we examine, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the effect of this conversion on the schools and communities involved.
By tracking enrollment information from before and after the conversion for both schools that switched as well as schools with similar demographics, we are able to conclude:
  1. Switching from private to charter significantly increased enrollment in affected schools. 
  2. Switching from private to charter meaningfully increased the percentage of minority students in the schools.
Through interviews with key personnel in those school systems, we discovered several interesting implications from the decision to convert schools.

The question of what to do with struggling inner-city Catholic schools is still an open one. Evidence in the academic literature, confirmed by the lived experiences of the school leaders we interviewed, makes a strong case that private school choice programs can stem the tide of private school closures. But, as more communities consider school choice (both public and private) as a policy to give more options to low-income families, it is important to emphasize that how those programs are structured affects the schools that will be able to participate—and ultimately the set of choices available to families.


Choice Scholarship Program

Enacted 2011 • Launched 2011

Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program allows students in low- and middle-income families to receive vouchers to attend private school.

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program

Enacted 2001 • Launched 2001

Florida provides a tax credit on corporate income taxes and insurance premium taxes for donations to Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs), nonprofits that provide scholarships for low-income students and children in foster care and offer funds for transportation to public schools outside a child’s district. Businesses get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for SFO contributions, with total credits capped at $286.25 million. Unused credits can be carried forward to the next fiscal year.

John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program

Enacted as a Pilot Program 1999 • Expanded 2000

Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program allows public school students with disabilities or 504 plans to receive vouchers to attend private schools or other public schools.

Opportunity Scholarship Program

Enacted 2004 • Launched 2004

The District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program provides vouchers to low-income students. Overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, the program is funded separately from D.C. public and charter schools. It is authorized through 2016, with $20 million in total available funding.

Private School/Homeschool Deduction

Enacted 2011 • Launched 2011

Indiana provides a tax deduction for individuals who make educational expenditures on behalf of their dependent children. Any taxpayer who has a child already enrolled in private school or who is homeschooled is eligible to claim up to a $1,000 tax deduction per child for approved educational expenses including private school tuition, textbooks, fees, software, tutoring, and supplies.

School Scholarship Tax Credit

Enacted 2009 • Launched 2010

Indiana’s School Scholarship Tax Credit program allows individuals and corporations to claim a 50 percent tax credit for contributions to approved Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships. There is no limit on the dollar amount of the tax credit that can be claimed, although the total amount of tax credits awarded statewide is limited to $7.5 million.


4/29/2014 Study: Catholic schools "switching" to charters serve more students, minorities

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