Monday, November 18, 2013

Charter Schools and Religion

A charter school by definition is an alternative education system in which the school itself receives public funding, but operates independently.  This article from the New York Times deals with a charter school in San Antonio, Texas called the Eleanor Kolitz Hebrew Language Academy.  The classes are taught entirely in Hebrew in addition to classes on Israeli culture.  

The school is on the campus of the San Antonio Jewish Community Center,  is the first Texas charter to offer Hebrew, and one of two charters awarded by the state to open in a Jewish center.  The school officials take issue with some of the leasing arrangements and the specific population that they serve, but the schools continue to ensure the state that religion is being kept out of the class room, and they are focused on diversifying the student body.  
Much of the criticism is rooted in the number of religious schools that are converting to charter schools.  The process is legal, but it forces the state to question how students are getting accepted into the school, and the involvement of the state and state funding.  Interestingly, charter schools receive the same state funding that traditional public schools do.  This means that schools can adopt their own philosophies, while being funded by tax payers.  The principal of Kolitz Academy, Kathryn Davis, claims that Hebrew is a modern language and is spoken secularly, just like any other language in the world.  

The Kolitz Academy opened as a K-8 public charter school was funded through an educational grant worth $600,000.  Additionally, the academy shares a building with the Jewish community  center, a Holocaust museum and is located in in a affluent area, which the state feels may limit the diversity of the student body.  The school, like all charter schools, is publicly funded but privately run.  

I think that this was a particularly interesting article because it raises the question of whether or not these state supported schools, that were previously religiously affiliated, are changing just so they can be considered for state funding.  I would have to question whether or not this would be considered an establishment of religion.  To me this seems like a legal loophole to attain funding.  

Prior to becoming the Eleanor Kolitz Acamemy, the same campus housed a private Jewish day school.  After the transition from Jewish day school to Hebrew charter school, the majority of students, staff members, and head of school remained the same.  This makes me question the why these changes are occurring, and the morals behind these changes.  I feel that this is a case of religious entanglement.  I think that in the state funding these converted schools, in essence tare supporting a religiously affiliated education.  However, on the other hand, denying these converted schools could be considered discriminatory towards religion.  

I question that amount of changes that are occurring in the curriculum, considering the staff and student body from the Jewish day school remain the same.  The article also references another charter school eight miles from Kolitz Academy that is located on the property of Temple Beth-El, which is San Antonio's largest Jewish congregation.  Next year, the temple will lease part of their building to start the Great Hearts Academies.  The superintendent of the Great Hearts Academies claims that there will be no affiliation between the school and the temple aside from landlord and tenant.  This is a school that will be using space in a Temple, in one of the largest Jewish congregations and Jewish populated areas in Texas; seems a little fishy to me. 

I think that this is an issue of establishment of religion because the funding is coming from the state.  I think that many of these converted schools are still religiously grounded, and that state funding should not be provided.  

1 comment:

Dylan Smith said...

At face value I very much agree with you Kaela. This seems a little strange and I question the motivation of these formerly religiously motivated schools in becoming charter schools. I think, since the state currently supports these charter schools, and it doesn't appear that there has been a complaint thus far, that the state must continue to support these schools. The state has no reason to distrust these academic institutions. I think that, if a parent were to raise an issue with the teaching in a school described here, then the state may investigate the validity of the schools' operations under the establishment clause. Until then, the state should not involve itself.