Private School Pressures

By Cecile S. Holmes

This year’s economic downturn has hit Roman Catholic and private schools where many already were suffering -- in the pocketbook. Drastically shrinking endowments, rising energy costs, and parents who’ve lost their jobs have religious and nonsectarian schools scrambling to reverse declines in enrollment.

But the severity of the current situation, how it is being addressed, and the long-term effect vary from one school to another and from one type of private school to another. And, for the first time, some Catholic schools in hard-hit urban areas are turning into charter schools to survive.

In Washington, D.C., seven financially troubled Catholic schools converted to charters last fall so that they would not have to close. The move means gains and losses for these formerly Catholic campuses, now part of the Center City Public Charter Schools.

When the school day begins at the charter schools’ Trinidad campus, for example, students recite an honor code that stresses each young person’s responsibility to arrive on time, treat others with respect, and solve conflicts peacefully, among other things. The statement is purposeful, but it’s a far cry from the Lord’s Prayer, past regular services of Morning Prayer, or teachings on the Catholic catechism.

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