The following comes from an August 15 story in the Sacramento Bee.
Dozens of private schools across the Sacramento region closed their doors in recent years as enrollment plummeted and students transferred to public schools.
Statewide, private school officials point to a birthrate decline and migration out of California. But they also cite fierce competition from public charter schools as the economy sputtered and families sought cheaper education options.
Between 2007 and 2013, private school enrollment in the four-county region that includes Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo dropped by 11 percent, according to the California Department of Education. Over the same period, charter school enrollment shot up 67 percent.
In many cases, families saw high-achieving charter schools as a viable alternative based on performance and cost.
“Charters are definitely becoming way more popular,” said Laura Daggett, whose two children will attend Harvest Ridge Placer Academy in Rocklin. “You are getting a private school education for free. Why pay eight grand when you don’t have to?”
Daggett said she tried public schools, but was dissatisfied and decided to home-school her children before enrolling them in charter schools. For her family, she said, the cost of private schools was too high….
The shift from private to charter has been most noticeable in “highly urban” districts, according to Richard Buddin, an economist and education analyst. In research published last year, he found that 32 percent of students at elementary charter schools came from private schools in urban areas, compared with 8 percent from all districts….
Enrollment in diocesan schools has fallen by about 1,000 students, or 10 percent, over the last five years, and by 23 percent over the last decade.
The diocese shuttered 10 schools over the last seven years, said Rick Maya, director of Catholic schools for the Sacramento Diocese.
Schools in urban communities were hit hardest, while most schools in suburban areas of the diocese remain full.
Maya said part of the problem in urban communities stemmed from quality. Much like public schools, he said, Catholic campuses sometimes struggle to educate students in poorer communities.
“Catholic schools aren’t immune to the achievement gap,” Maya said.
About three years ago, Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto assembled a committee of community members to come up with ideas on how to stanch the flow of students out of diocesan schools, Maya said. The result was a broad effort to recruit the best teachers and principals, improve teacher training, expand partnerships with Catholic universities and invest in academics and technology, he said.
Maya said the changes have stabilized enrollment.
“You have to wake up and say, what are we going to do different,” he said. “We want to be able to educate all of our youth, regardless of ZIP code.”
Besides recharging its academic approach, the diocese is appealing to consumers in an ever-competitive market.
To sweeten the pot, St. Philomene Catholic School in Arden Arcade is offering laptops for students in third through eighth grades, as well as lower tuition for all families, according to its website.
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