Education Letter to the Editor

Religious Charter Schools

August 14, 2007 3 min read

To the Editor:

As a charter school operator and a member of the California charter commission, I disagree with Lawrence D. Weinberg and Bruce S. Cooper’s Commentary “What About Religious Charter Schools?” (June 20, 2007). Religious-based charter schools don’t make sense legally or politically for the charter movement.

By law, charter schools are part of the public school system and, therefore, government agencies. By definition, private schools are not. Charter schools are created and overseen by public entities and school districts; private schools are not. Charter schools are entirely publicly funded; public vouchers fund only a part of a religious school.

As a government agency, a charter school must maintain the long-standing division of church and state. Creating religious charter schools—that is, religious public schools—would improperly blur that constitutional line in a government agency, impermissibly entangling the government in determining whether religious instruction is, or appears to be, coerced by the schools.

In fact, it strains credulity to think that a religious-based school would not directly or indirectly encourage religious practice. Why be a religious school otherwise? Individual school policies to the contrary are not reassuring.

Charter schools already must fend off their opponents’ allegations that they are not public schools, and an array of other specious arguments. Creating religious charter schools would only make it harder to retain public support, by muddying the waters over a well-defined constitutional distinction.

Religious schools are fine for parents who want to support them. The courts have also said that it is acceptable for the government to allow parents to use vouchers to direct some public funds to religious private schools, particularly in areas with very low-performing public schools. But it goes too far to ask the government to fully fund and oversee religious public schools. Religious charter schools do not make sense.

Mark Kushner

Chief Executive Officer and Founder

Leadership Public Schools

San Francisco, Calif.

To the Editor:

Only if religious schools met the high standards of inclusion and faculty training required of public schools would they be worthy of receiving taxpayer money through vouchers, tax deductions for tuition, or as charters. This is not going to happen, because to do so would undermine such schools’ stated purpose: providing a religious education.

In addition to not mandating religious training during school hours, they would have to welcome members of faiths whose beliefs were incompatible with those of the schools’ founders without proselytizing, and also allow religious dress as public schools do.

The schools would have to draw from the same pool of certified teachers that public schools rely upon and hire only certified, professional educators. A religious education would then cost more, since private schools often save money by paying their teachers as much as $10,000 a year less than what public school teachers in the same districts receive.

The schools would have to practice open admission, which would mean not only educating students with minor behavioral or learning difficulties, but also serving those with physical or emotional disabilities, as well as providing the technology, special educators, and services they require.

Finally, there would have to be an objective way for religious schools to demonstrate that they were actually providing a quality education; there would have to be a standard of comparison.

If parents wish to give their children a religious education and can afford to pay for it, they have every right to do so. Otherwise, millions of children already receive their faith-based training outside of school hours, where it belongs under the U.S. Constitution: in the home and in religious communities of their parents’ choice.

Until religious schools function with the inclusiveness and accountability required of public schools, they are unworthy of taxpayer money.

Rhonda Browning

Gonzales, La.

A version of this article appeared in the August 15, 2007 edition of Education Week