The big news these days is the tragic announcement of 13 Catholic schools to be closed in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  Though framed as an opportunity to recalibrate Catholic education in the Archdiocese and find a new beginning, both rallying parents and education commentators are recognizing it for the major loss that it is, especially for the poorest students.

Though speculation has begun over what will happen to the buildings, the Archbishop insists that they do not plan to sell them.  His comments below, however, make me wonder if the Archdiocese is considering charter school leasing, as in D.C.

We want to use all of our buildings as best we can for the community in which they now exist, and we will do our best to work with community leadership to make sure the Catholic Church continues to serve those communities, maybe in the area of Catholic charities.

We sympathize with those who are so attached to buildings, but we hope that they realize that our main task is to make sure that we educate — and educate well — and educate as many of our students who are looking for a good education as possible.

Interestingly, the timing of this announcement coincides with a report highlighting the tremendous economic, academic, and community benefits that Catholic schools provide in Baltimore, highlighting the broad impact of their closing.

Unlike the message of the formal announcement, I believe the opportunity lies not with a smaller more sustainable Catholic school system in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, nor the leasing of the buildings of closed Catholic schools to charter schools – as some will surely advocate.  Instead this crisis should be used to broaden support for the passage of new legislation to help private schools and low-income families through tax-credit scholarships, a point not lost on some.  An article in the American Spectator, Saving Catholic Schools, makes a similar argument appealing to moderate Democrats to support such legislation.  It appears that Maryland Democrats are listening, aware of how little Baltimore can afford this blow to high quality urban education.

An astutely timed rally of hundreds of student in Annapolis attempted to bolster support for a tax-credit scholarship bill, BOAST, that would sponsor a program similar to a popular effort in Pennsylvania.  This program would significantly help urban Catholic and private schools, as well as low-income families that desire an alternative to often sub-par urban public schools.

Sen. Ron Dyson, D-St. Mary’s County voiced his support:

I want to work very hard to make sure our non-public schools continue to exist in our state.

Delegate Jay Walker, D-Prince George’s County did as well:

We must make sure we have equal education for all. We cannot afford to have the private schools go out of business because statistics show that they would quite simply overwhelm our public schools.

Andy Smarick at the Fordham Foundation also writes about a recent letter from Governor Martin O’Malley to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee expressing support for the BOAST bill.  In this letter, the Governor writes:

I believe the bill is crucial if we are to stem the tide of private school closures in the State.  These closures represent a loss of educational diversity and opportunity for our students and will ultimately increase costs and enrollment pressures on our public school systems.  The BOAST tax credit will help preserve Maryland’s rich tradition of highly performing public and private schools.

The crisis of urban Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore just might be the shock needed to push forward statewide legislation that will make Catholic and private education in Maryland more accessible and more sustainable for years to come.  Perhaps there might even be a way to save the 13 schools on the chopping block long enough for such a program to take effect.  Let’s hope all of these factors are considered by the Archdiocesan leadership as they continue discussions with parents and other groups desperate to save their Catholic schools.  “And hope does not disappoint us…” (Romans 5).