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Religious Schools Struggle As Charters Expand in Urban Centers, Report Says

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The newly formed National Commission on Faith-Based Schools has released a report detailing the steady decline of religious schools in urban centers throughout the United States in part because of competitive pressures from charter schools.

Expanding vouchers, the report argues, is a key to preserve faith-based educational institutions.

Catholic schools have been hardest hit, partly because of the introduction of charter schools in urban centers—a mainstay source of students for Catholic schools. Another factor: a sharp decline in the number of teaching nuns has raised overall costs for operating the schools, says Peter H. Hanley, the author of the paper and executive director of the American Center for School Choice, which houses the faith-based schools commission.

Between the 2001-02 and 2009-10 school years, the number of students in Catholic schools declined by nearly nine percent, according to federal data.

Expanding and creating voucher programs could be one way to help sustain faith-based schools, the paper says, calling on federal and state governments to support such programs. Voucher programs have also created more racially-balanced schools in places like Milwaukee, Cleveland, and the District of Columbia, according to the report. (The voucher program in DC has recently come under fire after a GAO report that found major flaws in its implementation.) 

The paper also seeks to dispel certain myths about religious schools, including that they serve mostly white, affluent students. The paper points to research to show that in fact, religious schools have historically been more racially integrated than public schools, partly because they pull students from a wider and more diverse area than district schools.

Currently, about eight percent (4.3 million) of U.S. students in K-12 are enrolled in faith-based private schools, says the report.

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