With funds raised by seven churches, a new school will open inside an Ohio church this fall in hopes of becoming a model for other churches to launch affordable, private schools for students in low-income neighborhoods as the state government will pay thousands in tuition per student.
The Westside Christian School will launch Aug. 25 at Memorial Baptist Church in the Hilltop neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, where it will serve at least 40 children between kindergarten and second grade.
Aaron Baer, the president of the Center for Christian Virtue, an organization that advocates for religious freedom and other faith-based public policies, outlined the project in an interview with The Christian Post.
Baer said that many kids, especially those attending school in the inner city, are not having their needs met. He stated that many students graduate from the Columbus Public School District without knowing how to read or do basic math.
"It's just an unacceptable system," he told CP. "And then obviously, the COVID closures made everything worse."
The CCV president said that the organization aims to provide kids with a "high-quality Christian education."
The Christian leader said that the new school is a pilot project for CCV and the organization wants to house more Christian schools in church facilities in the future. In an email to supporters, Baer said that CCV already has "20 churches that have stepped forward to say they'd like to start a school next year.
While Baer acknowledged numerous homeschooling options available, he said homeschooling is not a viable solution for many families.
"So we wanted to set out to develop a model to build an affordable, scalable way of starting schools in churches," the Christian leader said. "You know, the body of Christ does not need more brick and mortar. We've got churches on every street corner that are empty six days a week."
Since constructing new school buildings is not financially viable, CCV opted to house Christian schools in churches, which are already empty during the week. The Westside Christian School was put together for under $100,000, made possible by private donations from local congregations.
"We had seven churches come together in the Hilltop in Columbus, one of the poorest, most dangerous neighborhoods in the city, actually in the state," Baer said. "And they came together and gathered the money to help get the church up to code for first classrooms and hire the principal and then hire the four teachers."
Baer said that although there are 40 students enrolled for the first day of classes, more spots are available for students to enroll.
"It's been a summer of outreach programs. So going door to door, telling families about it," he said. "You know, the school in so many ways sells itself. When you go to these families and say, 'Hey, would you like a 10-or-15-to-one student-to-teacher class ratio?' They jump on it."
According to Baer, students who enroll can use a voucher through the state's EdChoice Scholarship Program, which he said amounts to $5,500 per kid.
The program is not without its critics.
As WOUB reported Sunday, David Carey, the deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, is concerned about diverting funds toward a school such as this one.
"The diversion of taxpayer money to schools of that nature is a very troubling step," Carey said. "An expansion of that type of program would be a further troubling step in the erosion of the separation of church and state and the establishment of what amounts to a state-endorsed religion."
Carey also believes that voucher funding going to CCV's program would take money away from struggling public schools. He also argues that children will not be exposed to a diversity of viewpoints at a private Christian school the same way they would at a public school.
Baer accused the ACLU of Ohio of preferring children not to have their needs met over a Christian school providing them with a "proper education." The activist said the legal advocacy group's stance is the "epitome of heartlessness."
Baer cited the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this year in favor of religious schools denied funding through Maine's school voucher program. The high court ruled states cannot deny religious schools public funding based on religion.
The vision for the program was born in 2020 for CCV to create a "model for churches to start financially viable, affordable, 5-days-a-week schools in their existing Sunday school classrooms."
Baer said the ultimate goal is to see a school in every church.
"If you look at early Christians, especially Christians in America, we had such a heart and concern for literacy," he said. "Partially because it was the key to success for people for them being able to care for themselves and think for themselves. But also because we wanted people to be able to read God's word."
"And, you know, the academic crisis that we're in now, that's not just a moral one. It's also a basic reading, writing and arithmetic one," he continued. "It's an opportunity for the Church to go back to one of our first missions in America and seriously get into the education game like we haven't been in years."