Can states fund religious charter schools without stepping all over the Constitution's anti-establishment clause? We think it's possible. And in the current issue of Education Week, Lawrence Weinberg and Bruce Cooper show how it's happening near Minneapolis. But is the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy altogether a good thing? Is it a harbinger of things to come? The authors certainly think so, crediting the high-performing school with walking "the fine line between serving a public purpose (educating children in a sensitive, culturally specific, values-oriented program) and being an Islamic religious school." "Its mission," the authors continue, "is clear and values-oriented, but not related solely to religion." (Gadfly knows that some will worry about balkanization of our "civic culture," but we're for choice, and not just the choices we like.) Fair enough, but don't expect a boomlet of religious charters. Selling people on public dollars for religious schools won't be easy. Lawsuits will surely be brought. But if such schools think through their missions carefully (and follow Weinberg and Cooper's good advice, such as creating a secular foundation to manage the schools' finances), we might just see miracles happen.
"What About Religious Charter Schools?" by Lawrence D. Weinberg and Bruce S. Cooper, Education Week, June 18, 2007