Comparative Analysis of Education Policy: The Crossing Vectors of Funding and Autonomy

Notre Dame Law Professor Nicole Garnett is conducting a cross country legal analysis to explore the diverse legal policy environments in which Catholic schools operate, since legal rules shape in important ways how Catholic schools operate, whom they serve, and even what they are. These questions are critical to gaining a robust understanding of Catholic schools globally. Indeed, the legal constraints on school operations are so varied, and shape school operations so comprehensively, that many participants at our 2018 conference in Rome (Global Catholic Education and Integral Human Development: Setting a Social Science Research Agenda) concluded that it might be impossible to draw any comparative generalizations about what Catholic schools are

Garnett’s work engages these themes to employ a legal analysis of four illustrative cases (the United States, Australia, Kenya, and Greece) and focuses on two dimensions critical to Catholic schools: (1) the degree to which public funds are available to private and faith-based schools in each context, and (2) the level of autonomy the law provides for these schools. In the United States, for example, Catholic schools operate in a legal environment that, by and large, requires private schools to be self-funding but also gives them substantial operational autonomy. In many other contexts, the opposite is true—Catholic schools are funded by the government, but their autonomy is substantially constrained by law. For example, in many African nations, most Catholic schools were nationalized during the immediate post-colonial period. Today, they operate as “church-sponsored” public schools—that is to say, they receive public funding, but have no control over staffing, curriculum, and student body composition.