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November 02, 2009
A central Ohio church has appealed the Ohio Department of Education's denial of its application to become a charter school authorizer (more on the story here, subscription required):
Brookwood [Presbyterian Church], doing business as Brookwood Community Learning Center, submitted a 49-page application to the ODE in November 2007 for approval as a charter school sponsor.
The church said that instead of reviewing application materials, the ODE determined that "neither the national Presbyterian church nor Brookwood Presbyterian Church is eligible to apply to become a sponsor" because they are not "education oriented" entities as required under state law.
"Despite the fact that nothing in the Ohio Revised Code prohibits a religious organization as such from ... being approved as a sponsor of community schools in Ohio, ODE's decision made it clear that the applicant's status as a church alone was a disqualifying fact in the eyes of ODE: 'also please know that no church has been approved as a sponsor,'" the church told justices.
It is true that no churches serve as authorizers in Ohio, but church-related organizations are certainly active in the charter sector with the knowledge and approval of the state.????Educational Resource Consultants of Ohio (ERCO) authorizes more than twenty charter schools in the Buckeye State.???? It was founded by Christ Tabernacle Ministries and the church still retains the rights to ERCO's trade name.???? Another state-approved authorizer, St. Aloysius Orphanage, oversees more than 30 schools and has deep roots in the Catholic faith. ????????Ohio's authorizer law doesn't explicitly prohibit churches from becoming authorizers, but it does set a separate threshold - that non-profit sponsors be "education-oriented" entities with a "demonstrated record of successful implementation of educational programs" - which the education department says Brookwood failed to meet.????
While Ohio's law remains murky, other states have sought clarity when it comes to the role of religious organizations in charter schools.???? Shortly after the American Civil Liberties Union sued a Muslim-affiliated charter school in Minnesota earlier this year, that state's charter association issued recommendations that the legislature "clarify that organizations with church status cannot be authorizers."???? The Gopher State's legislature acted on the recommendation and passed a law prohibiting sectarian organizations from becoming authorizers; however, the law grandfathered in existing church-affiliated authorizers.????
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation authorizes six schools in Ohio.????As authorizer, we are responsible for fiscal, operational, and academic oversight of our schools, but we have no role in their educational programming.????It is plausible to me that a church could do the same without imparting religious teachings or practices on its schools.???? What do you think????? Should churches be permitted to authorize charter schools?