Catholic Schools or Charter Schools

At some time or another we have been exposed to the ad catch phrase “Got Milk?” on billboards and various print publications. A different version that I have seen on shirts reads “Got Jesus?” I prefer the latter, for the obvious reasons of the inquiry to Christ. Not a day goes by when I visit Catholic schools, speak with principals, interact with students, and discuss issues with parents that this phrase genuinely echoes within my mind. It leads me to understand the primary emphasis of Catholic education rests in Jesus Christ.

Our Journey

My wife and I are Catholic educators by vocation for the last 13 years. Both of us are products of public school and Catholic School education. In many ways, the two systems of education complimented each other for us personally. We have homeschooled our children for several years and currently have our older two enrolled in Catholic school. We have seen the pros and cons of public school, homeschooling and Catholic school when it comes to curriculum development, pedagogical instruction, moral foundation and so on. Careful consideration and appropriate discernment are tantamount when formulating the best direction to educate children, especially within the Church.

Why Catholic Education?

One of the consistent questions people ask me related to Catholic Schools is: Why choose Catholic Education? A parent who is sincerely considering Catholic Education for their child discerns many challenging questions i.e. Catholic Identity, faithfulness to Church teaching, strong academics, moral foundation etc. In listing these very important constructs, one ought to view how Catholic Education has always taken care of the soul and mind of the child. My point resonates further when the issue of Charter Schools comes into the conversation as an alternative to Catholic school. I tend to question where a Charter School would avail itself of such a thought when it comes to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The order and structure of Catholic Education is rooted on a proper understanding of the child’s role in society in light of being-created in the image and likeness of God. Understanding this point, Catholic Schools exist to assist parents in the formation of a proper Christian Anthropology to their son or daughter. The foundation of this Christian Anthropology rests primarily with the parent. The aim of Catholic education is assisting a child’s understanding of his/her relationship with Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest Catholic Educators in the Church St. Augustine of Hippo professed that the mission of Catholic Education is to “assist the child find and encounter a relationship with Jesus Christ.” St. Paul in his instruction to St. Timothy urges him teach the truth and that those who do not teach in keeping with our Lord Jesus Christ is full of conceit and knows nothing (1 Tim 6:1-6).

The Charter School Phenomena

The statements from my previous paragraphs address an earlier article I read on Catholic by Mrs. Heidi Hess Sexton on the “Case for Charter Schools” (Aug, 28. 2009). Mrs. Sexton articulates some positive points Charter Schools are having in communities across the country. By many instances, she is correct in addressing the position that not all charter schools perform well. In her personal witness, Charter schools are very beneficial for her children. It gives me great joy to see a parent take their role as the primary educator of their children with great care and love. My position addresses her comparison of Charter Schools with Catholic Schools that I believe misses the mark.

Catholic Schools are by far and large an instrument in the continual catechetical development of a child. These sacred institutions aim at being an extension of the parent who has faithfully handed on the Catholic faith to their children. Sound catechetical instruction in a Catholic School aims at the primary object to bring children into the mystery of Christ . This mystery fosters a desire for sound catechesis established not as a means of promoting one’s own teaching or someone’s personal mastery of a subject, instead, it is the establishment of the teachings of Jesus Christ because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)

Another great Catholic Educator St. John Bosco incorporated his famous pedagogical technique of Reason, Religion, and Kindness as the means of winning the soul of the child and providing an excellent Catholic education.

The Charter school , no matter how great, cannot offer what I have just described. It may formulate a curriculum based on virtue, compassion, and general discipline. Uniforms may be commonplace and interaction between students and faculty may actually be charitable. In the end, it is still a public school with a specific academic emphasis. Can a Charter school form a foundation rooted in Jesus Christ? The obvious answer is no. A recent poll conducted on why parents choose Charter Schools falls in to three main categories. These are:

1. Realize and Education Vision

2. Gain autonomy

3. Serve a special populatio n

The Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education (CCE) states in its document entitled: The Catholic School when it comes to the actual instruction of the student within the school, the Catholic educator must exhibit a constant reference to the Gospel and a frequent encounter with Christ within the educational framework. (55) The result of this methodology, a child experiences his or her dignity as a human person created in the image and likeness of God.

The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School tell us: from the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic School, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics. (25) Echoing this statement, Pope Benedict XVI in his address to Catholic Educators at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. (April 2008) expressed the particular responsibility of every Catholic educator “to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief.”

My position as a Catholic Educator echoes the response to the call of the “New Evangelization” to build a family rooted in love. What makes Catholic Education so unique? It fosters a genuine Christian journey to Heaven. A child walking through the doors of any Catholic School should immediately experience truth, beauty, and goodness. The very essence of Catholic Education is Jesus Christ. The reality, a Charter school would have a difficult time offering these gifts.


Have served in the field of Catechesis as a teacher and administrator for the last fourteen years at the Parish, High School and Diocesan levels.

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  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    There are problems with the statement, “Catholic Schools are by far and large an instrument in the continual catechetical development of a child,” when placed in the specific context of the current Catholic education system in the United States. The reason, of course, is that Catholic schools do not always provide for the continual catechetical development of a child. There are reasons for this.

    The first reason is cost. When a year of tuition routinely costs $5000 or more for primary school and $10,000 or more for secondary school, it begs the question of how parents are to live out their vocation as husband and wife, called primarily to the procreation and education of children? In order for catechetical development to continue in a school, it must first begin in the home. But long term financial burdens measured at nearly $100,000 in nominal dollars per child for a full K-12 complement of Catholic education is nothing if not a temptation to contracept. After all, how can the struggling Catholic family provide the means to the end of a Catholic education if there are too many little ones to educate at an average nominal cost of $6,500 or more per child? Add to this cost the transportation costs associated with even getting kids to school – transportation costs that were easily $3,000 to $4,000 for the year we sent our two eldest to Catholic schools – and it becomes difficult to see how anyone can afford it all.

    However, the proper order of things demands that the vocation to procreate precede the vocation to educate, and that the educational mechanism must be brought into line with the call to spouses to be fruitful and multiply. Put in another light, when Paul VI writes in Humanae Vitae that spouses may restrict family size (through moral means) due to economic considerations, this permission does not equate to requirement. Familiaris Consortio makes clear in articulating the rights of the family that even poor families have the right to multiply. But the extreme financial burdens of Catholic school education make it difficult even for upper middle class families to offer it to their children.

    Not even government vouchers can offer a viable solution to this problem. The reason is rooted in the problematic decision of many Catholic schools to use the same textbooks offered in the public schools, even to the point of teaching sex education in some cases with a public school curriculum. Of what use is the Catholic faithfulness of the school if most of the class time is spent teaching material that is not itself couched in the Catholic faith? Put another way, if the history text teaches the same propaganda as the public school history text – mostly by excluding the real and positive role of the Catholic faith faith in the development of Western civilization – how can the Catholic school differentiate itself from the charter school if it uses this text? One might contend that the faithfulness of the teacher can provide a corrective – and one would be right. But how is this measured? And how are parents to believe it when so many Catholic texts are available across the gamut of academic subjects, yet so many Catholic schools choose public school alternatives?

    When the public school system exerts such a significant pull on some (perhaps many) Catholic schools, it becomes clear that government vouchers cannot be a final solution to the financial problem, either. Once the government provides the funding for Catholic education, the government also begins to feel it has the right to directly influence the content of that education. And since several Catholic schools already allow this influence into their doors in the absence of any direct governmental financial support, how shall we believe that they will maintain their Catholic identity once direct governmental intervention begins?

    These two points – cost and the lack of genuine Catholic presentation of academic content – are so routinely cited as the reasons parents choose alternatives to formal Catholic schools that I am shocked that neither point is addressed in the article. But once a public school curriculum is embedded in a school whose annual tuition can rise to 5 figures, how can we argue that it is different from – or even better than – a public charter school? I’m almost certainly missing something, but I cannot see the way to justify sending my kids to Catholic schools in light of these two points.

  • I have to agree with HomeschoolNfpDad. I dealt with this issue on my blog Catholic school is expensive, perhaps not as expensive as private school, but a struggle nontheless. I have a 14 year old just starting a fantastic Catholic High School and he has been in the Catholic school system for 10 years. I am pleased at his experience, but our Catholic school closed, and while we originally had our 6 year old enrolled in another Catholic school we decided to put him in the Charter school opening in our old Catholic school building. He has the same teachers and even the same room. We shall see how it goes. BUT the reason my son is not in Catholic school (and why so many people have removed their kids from Schools in the area) is cost. We just can’t afford two tuitions, even with financial aid.

    I am primarily a stay at home mom. I occasionally take freelance work. But would it be better for me to take full-time employment, and not be home for them, and have the little one go to aftercare and leave the older one on campus for hours after school? Is that better? Should we disrupt family life to do that? For right now the answer is no.

    I think that, while I love Catholic school, you also have the problem of kids who go there who grow up and abandon the faith because they were not taught it well, or had “Catholic” teachers who taught deliberately dissenting opinions, especially in HS. How is it that I went through middle and high school in Public school and am faithful but my friend who went through 12 years of Catholic school hasn’t stepped foot in a church since she graduated? What is of most importance is what happens at home, and what they are taught both about life and about the faith. Catholic school is just a reinforcement.

  • Andy0

    The Diocese of Wichita Ka. under the leadership of Bishop Michael Jackels has it right, FREE yes free Catholic Education for all participating Catholics. Financially supported by all peoples of the Diocese.

    Go to the attached website for more information.

    We have friends who have moved their families from California to Wichita to be a part of this wonderful diocese.

    The right Shepard with right priorities can do anything!

  • Kathryn

    I have said it before–once in regards to charter schools, this time with Catholic (diocesan) schools–they are not free. The schools mentioned above are “finaicially supported by all the people of the Diocese.” (as the poster did note.)

    That finacial support represents “lost opportunity cost” in some other area. I am not making any judgement on whether or not the “opportunity” that was “lost” was more or less worthy of the Bishop’s decision to use collection plate monies to fund the schools But we do need to get over this idea that anything is “free”. “3rd Party Payers” are a problem both in the medical industry and I believe in the “public education industry”. I think there is a potential for problems in the Diocesan school industry (and yes, it is a “business” even if it is “God’s business”) as well.

    In our case, we choose not to afford a diocesan school education. A variety of reasons went into that, some are not necessarily valid anymore (things change, people change), but cost is a factor, even though we may qualify for a reduced tuition. I do not feel I can justify a reduced even a reduced cost especially since all four of my husband’s simblings went all the way through Catholic School (before, during, and after Vat II–one went on to Notre Dame) and all 4 have abandonned the faith.

    So we are trying the Catholic homeschooling way. (Of course, it remains to be seen whether or children will abandon the faith as well.)

  • TexasMom

    I would never presume that there is only one correct way to provide a child with a sound Catholic education. There are valid reasons for families to make the choice to homeschool or send their kids to public or charter schools.

    I am an NFP-practicing mom of five children who either currently attend or have already completed Catholic school. Both my husband and I are products of Catholic schools and for us it was important to provide our kids with the kind of educational environment that only a good Cathoic school could offer.

    Are we wealthy? Far from it. My husband is a federal employee. I am a stay-at-home mom who, in 1996 and only after much prayer, chose to leave a well-paying corporate postition for this noble vocation. At the time we had only two children. Five years after that the air force base at which my husband was employed closed down for good. He was unemployed for a full year. We had four children. Two were in Cathoic school then–and they remained there throughout that difficult year. How? Some archdiocesan financial assistance, some family assistance, but about 90% our own money. We lived mainly on my husband’s severance pay and without many luxuries: we rarely ate out; we bought inexpensive grocery store brands; we drove old cars; we lived simply. My husband took on a modest temporary job at our church, and I was offered a bulletin editor position for pay (which I could do from home).

    There were many times when our creditors would have to take a back seat because, for us, our kids’ tuition came first. It was tough, but I believe God supernatural graces enabled us to endure, overcome and learn much from those trying days.

    After a year, my husband was able to get a good-paying government job, but we’re far from rich. I’m still a stay-at-home mom. We still don’t eat out much. We don’t have the newest cars, my kids don’t have a WII and our vacations consist of driving down to the Texas coast once a year. Our eldest has graduated from Notre Dame (scholarhip-funded); our second-born is in a local public junior college. Only three remain in Catholic elementary schools. All are church-goers who have maintained their faith, in large part because of their Catholic education and our family making it a priority.

    [Is that a guaranteed result for anyone choosing Catholic eduation? No, of course not. People with all sorts of educational backgrounds leave the faith. That is THEIR choice. I pray that it will never be the choice for my children.]

    My point is this: it IS possible to send your kids to Catholic school in MOST circumstances, if one is WILLING to make sacrifices and make it a priority.

    At one time we had four children in Catholic school simultaneously and were paying five-figure annual tuition. We have been blessed to be able to send our kids to a fantastic Salesian-run school, which is based on the teachings of St. John Bosco. They offer tuition discounts for the second, third, etc., child enrolled there, but it’s far from free. All five of my children have been taught by both wonderful lay teachers and Salesian sisters in an environment that is bustling with true Catholicity. So for us, the financial sacrifice was and is more than worth it.

    It is not an easy road. It boggles my mind to hear my more affluent friends say “I wish I could afford to send my kids to Catholic school”–this as they take vacations to Disneyworld, drive new SUVS, get regular pedicures/manicures and buy their kids the latest gadgets. (Nothing wrong with those things–just don’t whine about no funds for Catholic school.)

    Is every Catholic school worth sending your child and your money to? No.
    Just as every homeschooling parent may not be the best suited for educating their child and every public school may not be providing the best environment for its students.

    And let me say this–I have MANY friends who homeschool their kids and many others who send their kids to public school. We need good Catholic kids and families in ALL these venues! How else can we be salt and light to the world?

    We don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world. We, as thoughful, responsible Catholic parents must prayerfully make the best choice for OUR children’s education, all the while accepting the responsiblity that WE are our kids’ teachers–first and foremeost.

    HomeschoolNfpDad and mklatt, I don’t believe all is as bleak as you perceive or portray it to be. But I know that each of you has lovingly made the best decision for your children and I commend you for that.

    May God help us all to make the best educational decisions for our children.

  • Nicole Stallworth

    This article is an excellent reminder of the need for parents to evaluate the options specifically open to them acccording their family’s needs. I can respect and appreciate the ideals for Catholic education in a parochial setting that are set forth in this article, and I have no doubt that there are Catholic schools that achieve them to a high degree. Unfortunately, not all of them do–perhaps a majority of them do not. Many do more harm than good, as in the one where the kids pledge “allegiance to the earth and all its sacred hearts” and learn that God and the environment are one, or the one whose teachers advise students that premarital sex is okay if you love each other and know you’re going to marry. I also know that there exist excellent opportunities in public and charter schools that satisfy the academic facet of parents’ duty to educate their children, as well as wonderful parish programs to assist them in the religious facet; but parents too often have to worry about a toxic peer culture or actively anti-Christian curriculum in the public school, and, again, lackluster catechesis in the parish religious education. Homeschooling is another way to educate the “whole child” in Christ–it has its own benefits and tradeoffs that, for all its rosy glow or bad press (according to who is talking), must be given their true weight. There is no one-size-fits-all.

  • ea

    Texasmom, You said it well.

    I live in a very Catholic, but very liberal part of the country. The horror stories about Catholic schools are out there, but I have no first hand experience with them. Nor do any of my friends. Our parish school charges us on a sliding scale based on our income. When things got tight because of surprise medical expenses in the family, the principal contacted us to tell us we could move to a lower bracket. We did not have to ask.

    Homeschooling has never been an option, due to our temperaments and children’s disabilities. The public school has served us well for our children with disabilities, with some (but not too much) vigilance required about anything that might be counter to our beliefs.

    But my heart is in the Catholic schools. My parents struggled to put us through and my husband and I do the same. It is not always perfect, but we have never encountered anything against Church teaching, and Catholic Christianity does permeate my children’s day. While no child is a model of good behavior, and families practice their faith to different degrees, the Catholic school teachers, principal and staff are where my children encounter Christ on a constant dependable basis.

    As has been said, what happens at home is most important. My son who had only two years of Catholic school is a great defender of the faith. And my daughter who attends a Catholic high school runs things by me to make sure they ARE in line with Catholic teaching. I hope and pray that the foundation we have provided at home, in the Catholic schools and in the parish religious ed will keep my children faithful.

  • jeremyradford

    I am a product of Catholic Education (4th-12th) in the diocese of KC-St.Joseph, where the article’s author is the current superintendent. I find him to be the right man for the job, and find that he is leading our schools in a better direction. I also attended the local public schools K-3. The Catholic Schools were “safer” and fostered less competition for attention and involvement in school life. We celebrated the sacraments and were taught by example the “culture” of Catholicism (Sadly, part of which was personified in a common cheer at sporting events when our proud Celtics were losing to a public school, “It’s alright, Its OK, you will work for us someday). I am a father of five (age 11-newborn), we are an NFP faithful family with a single income. We started out in our parish school, which at the time was a “tithing school”. We no longer have our kids there, brought on by the change to a “tuition model”. I may unfairly say that a school that charges tuition ceases to be “catholic” it now becomes a school for the wealthy only. Sure the school will, through the work of a committee, allow the entrance of a few token poor families, but they are really interlopers using up valuable resources. If I sound bitter, I am.

    There was in place, a social contract between the Church and Catholic families for at least four generations, “support the church and we’ll educate your children”. This contract has been broken, fairly placing the blame on those who failed to support the church and those who were entrusted with the responsibility to educate the children. But, I contend that a Catholic School that asks its families to put their tithing dollars into a tuition envelope mailed to the office, submit their W-2’s and paystubs for evaluation of “scholarship money”, and send their children off to a principal, who fails to lead by example as a witness to the Gospel of Life, is little more than a Charter School in Wolf’s Catholic School Uniforms. Teaching the faith and living the faith are two different things. If the schools don’t do the latter, don’t bother doing the former.

    Please forgive my lack of charity. I hope to send my children to my high school alma mater, saving the $11,000/year in elementary parochial costs to take the hit for high school. I would like for my kids to be in Catholic Schools, but can’t bring myself to compromise my conscience to do it. For now, we are very involved parents in our neighborhood public schools, (luckily some of the finest in the country.) We made this choice after long hours of discernment, feeling called to be light in the darkness. I have found that my children are actually presented more opportunities to practice their faith in the diverse public forum. Living the theological virtues among their peers, and carrying their crosses with joy, as a sign of contradiction in the world is where we believe we are meant to be at this point.

    Thanks for letting me vent . . . maybe someday the wounds will heal.

  • allboys

    For various reasons, our children have never attended a diocesan Catholic school. They attended our excellent public schools for years, and then we sent them to a superb independent Catholic school for boys. We had five glorious years at that school before moving to a much smaller city with a dismal public school system. Because of the poor quality of the public schools, many parents who can afford the modest tuition have chosen to send their children to the diocesan Catholic schools. The result is that those schools have muddled missions — providing a true Catholic education for families who are serious about the faith, AND serving as an affordable alternative to the public schools for families who may or may not be Catholic. Not surprisingly, they don’t really achieve either goal. And, as schools run almost exclusively by women (not a single male teacher or principal did we see in ANY of the five parish elementary schools we considered), they were not the best choice for boys who were used to male teachers and far more personal freedom than most rule-oriented parish or public schools are willing to provide.

    So, they are attending an independent, ecumenical coed Christian school with single-sex classes and a classic Great Books-type curriculum. The school’s mission is clear, and the families are all on board. We have to take the responsibility for educating them in the faith (although their school does a good job teaching the Scriptures), but in that way we ensure that they will not be confused by the happy-clappy social justice curriculum that seems to predominate in the diocesan Catholic schools.

  • <<>

    Allboys makes a very good point, but our primary mission is not just to make a school for us. The reason our school closed was lack of students. Our parish was a poor one, always struggling, 2/3 Hispanic, and many, many immigrants from Central America and the Caribbean. Half of our students were not Catholic, although I did not know that until we closed. And I cannot say that the “Catholic” students who were there were very involved in the church. The great quantity of people from outside the parish means that the school was not supported properly. It was because the Catholic kids were not attending in large numbers that our school could not survive.

    What was interesting was that many of the kids who did attend had “scholarships” from the state given on basis of income that paid all the tuition. Many of the students in the school had them. When the school closed these students went to other Catholic schools, but we did not qualify because we made slightly too much money. So here we are faithful, involved Catholics who can’t afford to go to the Catholic schools, but outsiders can. Now, the Archdiocese is understanding of that, and has scholarships for faithful families (all verified through the parish) and they are trying to help. And the parish gives an unpublicized discount for contributing Catholic families, but now with Catholic HS in our life it is still out of our reach for our younger son. I’m not bitter, it is just the facts. If more Catholic families were able to do it and really support the school it would have survived. But even “rich” parishes are having troubles supporting their schools in this economy.

    I mention this because one thing that we do have to understand is that as Catholics our mission is not just to educate ourselves but the world. And while I’m sad that Catholics could not go to our school while others could, I realize that those children, many economically depressed, will receive not just a good education in the other Catholic schools they transferred to, but a Catholic education with our values. That affects children and perhaps some of them someday will come the Catholic faith or at least be supportive of it. Maybe some of them don’t get exposed to Christ and his teachings anywhere else. Our primary mission is to evangelize, not just our people but all people. And we need to do it any way we can.