Charter Schools Spark Church-State Concern In Illinois, New York.


Proposals to convert private sectarian schools into publicly funded charter schools have led to concerns over the separation of church and state in Illinois and New York.

In Chicago, public school officials are talking with the Rev. Michael Pfleger about the possibility of convening St. Sabina Roman Catholic School into a charter school. The plan, which has the backing of Chicago Public School Superintendent Paul Vallas, would require St. Sabina to close down and reopen under the control of a non-profit organization.

The non-profit group, presumably a front for the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese, would have to apply for charter status with the Chicago School Board. If approved, the school would not be allowed to provide religious instruction, though church officials said they will continue to offer it on a voluntary basis before or after the school day. The school would also have to offer open enrollment and abide by other regulations that govern public schools.

The Chicago Tribune reported that St. Sabina charges annual tuition of $2,435. If it were a charter school, it would receive $4,700 per pupil in state funds.

"We've got every other private organization running charter schools, why not the archdiocese?" Vallas said. "Their experience and track record in running private schools is as good as any other group."

Gail Purkey, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, criticized the proposal. "Public education is always looking for partners to support their efforts, but the more you start crossing the line to religious educational institutions, then I think you are into dangerous territory because of, first and foremost, the constitutional separation between church and state. Second would be taking dollars from public education to run private-based religious organizations."

Illinois' charter law forbids converting "any existing private, parochial or non-public school to a charter school." Vallas and officials at the archdiocese believe they can get around this provision by closing St. Sabina briefly and reopening it under a non-profit board.

A similar controversy is under way in New York City, where several black...

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