There aren’t any “magic bullets” in the known education reform arsenal capable of resolving the myriad of financing challenges that our K-12 faith based schools presently face. Instead, advocates of these schools must be willing to act with all deliberate speed to forge carefully researched, data-driven, and utterly ambitious responses to the forces that now threaten this once vibrant enterprise. This movement – that of continuing the great reform work across the country and advancing this extraordinary apostolate of hope – is the responsibility of all those interested in the vibrancy of the entire K-12 education sector, and it will require unprecedented collaboration, commitment, and vision.
At present, there are three strategic areas demanding immediate attention which the participants of this conversation have a demonstrated capacity and commitment: systematically improving the financial accessibility of quality faith-based schools, examining the historical practice of leasing facilities as a financial management strategy, and analyzing the contours of the theoretical “wrap-around” of “hyrbrid” charter model.
Systematically Improving Financial Accessibility:
The Notre Dame Center for K-12 Educational Access
In August 2010, the University of Notre Dame will launch the Center for K-12 Educational Access, a teaching, research and advocacy enterprise that will be exclusively dedicated to empowering our nation’s most financially under-resourced families with sustainable financial access to a quality Catholic and other faith-based education. This Center will help develop highly leveraged scholarship options (both publicly and privately funded) for low-income families throughout the country. Grounded in the social justice imperative of educational equality, the Center will work to advance instruments of policy and strategic philanthropy that will make parental choice a reality for low-income families throughout the nation, operating on three primary fronts:
Supporting and expanding publicly funded scholarship programs
Enhancing the national infrastructure of highly leveraged privately funded scholarship initiatives
Reforming cost and structures for Catholic schools and school systems
Examining Faith-Based School Facilities Usage:
Historical Analysis and Strategic Recommendations
K-12 Catholic schools would be very well served to have an exhaustive historical analysis of the practice of leasing one or several school facilities within a given system to a charter operator for the purpose of enhancing the educational mission. The University of Notre Dame hopes to launch such a study in the coming months – in partnership with other Catholic higher-education institutions, the USCCB, and dioceses and archdioceses across the country. The ultimate objective of this work would be the publication including both the results as well as a set of strategic recommendations for dioceses and archdioceses that may be considering such a strategy.
The “Wraparound” or “Hybrid” Charter Question
Research on Implications and Potential Pilot
Given the utterly unprecedented and highly contentious nature of this hypothetical model, it is clear that we must examine each attendant question carefully and collaboratively. To that end, we propose the commissioning of a task force of academics, school and school system administrators, ecclesial leaders, policy makers, and parents exclusively dedicated to the Constitutional, regulatory, educational, catechetical, financial, and administrative issues raised by such a construct. Such a task force could – but may not necessarily – lead to the development of a pilot venture, most likely designed to operate in an urban context in which the opportunities for alternate policy reform measures are limited.