Left unspoken* at yesterday's White House summit on faith-based schools was whether the idea of religious charter schools has any merit. Of course, this is no surprise. There are enough opponents of charter schools, of vouchers, and of any co-mingling of church and state, that direct funding for overtly religious schools would be a combustible mix. It's controversial enough that D.C. is converting seven Catholic schools to charter status, stripping them of their "Catholicity," and besides, yesterday's conference had plenty else on the agenda. Yet given the success Catholic schools have shown in educating poor and minority students, and the likelihood that that's because of their Catholicity, it's an idea that warrants more of an airing. (Two prior Gadfly op-eds provide a bit, at least, here and here .)
I was reminded of this yesterday when I met Lawrence Weinberg, author of Religious Charter Schools: Legalities and Practicalities (2007), a book I'm now curious to read. Checker and Mike have argued that the Zelman decision paved the way for religious charters, at least insofar as the U.S. Constitution is concerned, but (at the risk of mischaracterizing his work) Weinberg replies that the legal landscape is a little more complicated than that (both because of state-level issues, like Blaine amendments prohibiting state funding of religious schools, and because Zelman is not the only relevant Supreme Court case). Of course, practically speaking, charter schools have to be approved by authorizers, most of which are districts or universities who would surely be unwilling to test these waters. Still, I can't help but think that it's a matter of when, not if, someone is bold enough to really advance this idea.
*Update: Sportswriters shouldn't submit their articles before the final buzzer sounds, and apparently bloggers shouldn't critique a summit without staying for the whole event. An astute reader immediately??pointed out that I missed Lawrence Weinberg presenting on this very topic in the day's final panel. So much for leaving this idea unspoken! Kudos to the summit and those who organized it for raising this interesting??idea. I'm sorry for the error, but I'm especially sorry I missed the discussion.??I'd be curious to hear from any attendees how the audience reacted.