Public Funding for Private Schools
The urge to fragment and undercut public education is not new
There will always be those who, for one reason or another, denigrate the public schools. The schools don’t adhere to this or that parent’s view of how certain things should (or shouldn’t) be taught, often sex education, evolution, or race relations; the public schools cost too much; the public schools are administratively top heavy, teachers are paid too well, they get too much vacation. The direction of these complaints are two fold: either, as we’re seeing now at school board meetings across the country, an activist minority decides they will bend the curriculum to suit their particular ideology—or such a minority wants to establish private schools of a particular bent—and wants public money to fund them.
Public funding for private schools takes two forms. The most obvious is “school choice”. With school choice public funds follow the student to whatever private or public institution parents choose. Schools either succeed or wither based on parent choice, a choice inevitably based on factors that include the slickness of the school’s advertising, the religious bent of the parents, and profits to be made. More subtle, but equally damaging, is legislative underfunding of public education. As outmigration from public schools cuts into enrollment, funding diminishes, and the children of the least engaged parents are left to be educated in under-supported schools—producing a self-fulfilling prophecy of academic underachievement that supports further outmigration.
Private education with a subtle economic twist has a checkered history in this country. After the desegregation ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 public education in the American South was undermined by “segregation academies”, schools that overtly excluded students based on race. Although not directly funded by public money, in many Southern communities tax levies for public education were starved—after all, one wouldn’t want one’s tax revenue to fund “them”. Overt segregation in such academies and private schools was found unconstitutional in 1976 in Runyon v. McCrary, but, for those originally segregationist academias that survived, the pattern of segregation was culturally perpetuated—and the established pattern of underfunding for public schools still echoes today.
The push for public funding of private schools lives locally. Chris Cargill is a writer funded by the right wing Washington Policy Center (WPC) and a recently elected City Council Member in Liberty Lake. Lately, thanks to his position with the WPC he has been offered a platform on the opinion page of the Spokesman Review every two weeks. His March 4 opinion column titled “The opportunity to re-think public education is now” is little more than an advertisement for public funding of a private school, the “Liberty Launch Academy” in Liberty Lake, a school that isn’t even open yet. The school motto, “Disrupting Education for Good”, is, perhaps, both apt and honest. In a familiar argument, Cargill first trash talks the costs and educational results of Washington State schools in general and the Central Valley School District schools in particular. Then he moves on to compare the average statewide per student expenditure in public schools ($17,000) to the $12,000 “cost” (actually the proposed charge, not cost) of a year at the Liberty Launch Academy, a school whose economic viability and educational success is, at this time, pure speculation.
Any doubt as to the sectarian tendencies and political bent of Liberty Launch Academy is dispelled by a visit to their website. There you can listen to the founder, Luke Kjar, start his video ad with a question, “How cool would it be to disrupt education, to change it forever?” That is a statement that assumes that public education is hopelessly valueless. You can read the school’s “Statement of Faith”:
Just as faith and freedom are deeply woven into the ethos of the United States of America, Liberty Launch Academy believes in medical, religious, and educational freedom.
The “View Full FAQ List” section of the Liberty Launch Academy notes that “As a private school we are not required to adopt or follow state curriculum,” regarding “state mandated CRT curriculum” or WA State Sex Education. (Please note there is no “state mandated CRT curriculum.”) In case one wonders whether vaccines would be required the prospective parent is reassured: “We will accept waivers.” Clearly, Liberty Launch is cleverly advertising a political and religious agenda even as they claim, “Our curriculum is planned to align with multiple faiths.”
On the platform the Spokesman offers for his opinion piece Mr. Cargill presses his case for funding such schools as Liberty Launch Academy with your tax dollars. He highlights four different bills in the Washington State legislature, each of which would provide public funds for private education. He whines that “every single one” of them is blocked by “legislative leadership”, by which Mr. Cargill means, of course, the Washington State Democratic legislative majority.
Beware of those who would trash and defund public education to further a political and sectarian agenda. Such trashing is the educational equivalent of Trump’s shouting “Fake News!”
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. One entry in the “View Full FAQ List” section of Liberty Launch Academy’s website adds this:
Are you connected with the Liberty Boys Academy? Yes. The Liberty Boys Academy was Luke Kjar’s first iteration of his vision to improve education. The pandemic revealed a wider need for a more engaging curriculum encompassing both genders, so he expanded and refined his vision, culminating in the Liberty Launch Academy (LLA).
This is an interesting spin, considering that the “Liberty Boys Academy” website comes up “This site can’t be reached”, the site of the Academy in Liberty Lake is seen on google maps as bare ground, and a google search turns up information that the Academy will be “a privately-funded rugby academy focusing on innovative tactile and engaging learning strategies for young men” founded by Luke Kjar, “Utah Warriors co-founder and partner Lucas Kjar, founder of the Autosource Dealerships.” Mr. Kjar is clearly a man with a lot of money and a singular mission he wishes to accomplish, which he is having trouble realizing, and, which, at the present time, seems to consist mostly of aspiration visible on a slick website.