School choice

Is religion a factor in choosing a school? For some, the answer is yes, and for others, no.

I recently had a conversation about the similarities of non-public schools. Full disclosure – the person I was speaking with was looking for a fight! He asked me to tell him what a specific list of schools had in common. There were 16 listed on a sheet of paper. The only thing I could think of was that they were all private. The answer he was looking for was Christian. I had to look up two of the schools to research their religious affiliation – did you know that Seventh Day Adventists were Christian? I did not.

Our upbringing shapes our views on everything and for some, religion is a major focus. I was raised in the Methodist faith, had a Jewish godfather, celebrated the holidays with a menorah, a creche, and an understanding of what these meant. As an adult, I attended services at Catholic, Presbyterian, Quaker, and Unitarian Universalist churches. I describe myself as spiritual.

So, when the question was asked of me, it made me appreciate that many people see school choice as inherently tied to religion.

For the last 21 years, approximately 35 percent of CSFB students have attended Jewish Day Schools.  Although we do not ask the religion of our applicants, one can assume that most of these families choose these schools because they support the practice of their religion and offer teachings that are related to their culture, which are not available in public schools. For example, I recently learned that over 90 percent of the important Jewish texts have never even been translated out of the original Hebrew.

And others send their students to a private school for other reasons. Since 462 of the 883 private schools in Maryland have a religious affiliation, chances are that these schools will be considered for reasons other than that tie.

The Maryland Catholic Conference reports that approximately 39 percent of students who attend Catholic Schools are people of color; more than 25 percent of children who attend are not Catholic and 50 percent of Catholic Schools in the state serve a population that is majority low-income.

In conversations with those parents who come into our program in search of a public-school alternative, they cite these as the three main reasons for choosing to PAY for an education instead of sending their children to a school that is free:

  1. High quality of education: smaller classes, advanced coursework, more structured or experiential, remedial help.
  2. Positive learning environment: safe, constructive atmosphere, complimentary moral or religious perspectives.
  3. Non-academic program availability: programs such as art, music or athletics, extra-curricular clubs, and after-school offerings.

Baltimore’s Fund for Educational Excellence highlights a startling contrast regarding academic offerings as it relates to income. The report, CALCULATED CHOICES: Equity and Opportunity in Baltimore City Public Schools, found that the 19 public schools in the highest annual median income Baltimore neighborhoods offer special academic programming for middle-grade students versus just eight schools in the lowest-income neighborhoods.

In advocating for school choice in Maryland, it should be noted that parents are looking to secure an education for their child that WORKS. For many, religion is central to that choice and for others, it is not particularly relevant. It is about educating a child and providing them what they need to blossom.

– Beth Harbinson, Executive Director

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