It’s a small ripple now, but the rapid formation of charter schools–specialty schools operated by public schools — is making a dent in the demand and interest in religious schooling, reports the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 15).
Charter schools operate independently of public school districts and borrow many innovations from private schools, such as small classes and significant parental involvement. The clearest example of how charter schools are providing new competition to private religious schools is the non-profit National Heritage program.
The Grand Rapids-based National Heritage has burgeoned from one school with 174 students in 1995 to 22 schools with 8,600 students in two states. The organization’s marketing campaign seems to be aimed at evangelical parents. J.C. Huizenga, the founder of National Heritage and himself an evangelical, says poor parents need an alternative to expensive private schools.
“It didn’t occur to many people that tuition-burdened parents at religious schools would also welcome an alternative, particularly one teaching small classes, strict discipline and moral education. But today, charters are taking market share from fundamentalist schools, their predecessors as the hottest phenomenon in American education,” reports the article.
And charter schools, at least those started by National Heritage, are not as reticent about bringing religion into the class as are public schools. Already the organization is facing a lawsuit for allowing prayer meetings, having a teacher read the Bible to her class, and permitting a Baptist minister delivering a sermon at a staff training meeting. The new competitive atmosphere goes beyond National Heritage. In Detroit, for instance, students are transferring from religious schools to newly established charter schools. One Baptist minister who runs a small school in the city says he may have to close it because he has lost half of his students to charters.