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Group plans to put Christian schools inside Ohio churches and allow kids to attend with public money

Karen Kasler
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A new, private school has been commissioned in Columbus, but it’s not like many others. What makes this one different is the elementary school is housed in a church, in a low-income neighborhood.

This is a pilot project for the Center for Christian Virtue. And the group said it’s just the first of many that will use church facilities for a private Christian school.

Inside the walls of the Memorial Baptist Church on the west side of Columbus, classrooms normally used for Sunday church services are being readied for kindergarten through second grade students who have been going to local public schools. That's according to Aaron Baer, president of the Center for Christian Virtue, a conservative Christian organization. He said seven churches came together to create this new model school.

“So many of these kids were not having their needs met in their local public schools. They were not learning to read and they were in unsafe environments and these churches stepped up to say ‘we’re going to help these children’ and CCV is using this as a model to start similar schools all over the state and Lord willing, the nation,” Baer said.

Baer said the students at these schools will not only learn to read, write, add, and subtract but they’ll also be taught "Christian values" to counter the ideologies he says are being taught in public schools.

“Ideologies telling little boys that they can become little girls and telling girls that it’s not good enough to be a girl and they can be a boy instead. They’re harming kids with these dangerous ideologies,” Baer said.

Children who enroll in the school this year can use state money through Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program to pay for their tuition because they will fit the income or school attendance area guidelines. Baer said the churches that are providing the seed money for the school will pick up the costs for a few months until the school gets its charter and is able to tap into that scholarship program.

The fact that public money is going into the schools troubles David Carey, the deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

“The diversion of taxpayer money to schools of that nature is a very troubling step. 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 said.

Other Christian-based schools are now receiving money from the EdChoice Scholarship program. And Baer’s organization is leading the charge for majority Republicans state lawmakers to adopt a bill, commonly called the "backpack" bill, that would expand the Ed Choice Scholarship even more to allow any student, regardless of income or where they live, to use public money for private schools.

The ACLU of Ohio doesn’t like the "backpack" bill and Carey said using taxpayer dollars for private schools is problematic because it ends up pulling from the pot of money available to fund public schools. But he said courts might allow it.

“There have been recent supreme court decisions on this issue, some of which we disagree with," Carey said.

But it’s not just the money that troubles Carey. He said it’s important for schools to encourage diversity.

“Part of the virtue of a public education is exposure to people of different backgrounds, exposure to different viewpoints. No education is complete without exposure to the realities of history in American society and ideally, a range of different viewpoints. Whether that is something these schools would accomplish seems questionable. But, of course, that would depend on what they intend to teach," Carey said.

Baer said an established private Christian school in Columbus has shared its curriculum with the new school. And he rejected the separation of church and state argument.

“There’s religious teaching happening in public schools right now, indoctrinating kids into Marxism and really dangerous world views so they need to get their religion out of the public schools first," Baer said.

Baer said there are 20 more schools planned throughout the state, similar to this one, that could open next year. And he said it’s his hope that the idea of putting schools in churches will expand even more in the future.

“On every corner that you see a church, we want to see a school as well," Baer said.
Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.