Last week, the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, Tennessee, faced with continued financial struggles and the failure of the most recent state voucher bill, announced a plan to close all ten of its “Jubilee Schools” at the end of next year. When the network first opened on the eve of the Year of Jubilee, in 2000, it was dubbed the “Memphis Miracle,” and it was considered a model for how to revitalize urban Catholic schools serving our poorest communities. Now it’s a cautionary tale—a warning for leaders seeking innovative ways to save urban Catholic schools.
The way the diocese is choosing to close its schools is once again putting Memphis in the spotlight. At the close of the 2018–19 school year, the diocese of Memphis will withdraw its schools completely from the urban communities it has served for decades. In the place of the closed schools, assuming the state authorizer assents, will be nine new public charter schools. Religious instruction in these new charters will be banned from the school day, but diocesan leaders hope that the students “will continue to receive an excellent education that prepares them to be giving members of their communities.”