Jeff Bryant: A ‘new breed’ of charter schools is spreading Christian nationalism — at taxpayers’ expense
Independent education journalist Jeff Bryant takes a look at the new NPE report outlining the new wave of Christian nationalist charter schools.
Using keyword searches, news stories from local and national media, and examinations of charter school websites and other resources, the authors claim to have “identified a representative sample”—273 currently open charter schools—that resemble their definition of what constitutes a right-wing educational agenda.
The report authors offer this number with the caveat that “we are confident there are schools and even chains we missed.”
Two principal criteria the authors used to determine the political leanings of the schools were whether they offered what’s commonly called a “classical” curriculum or a “back-to-basics” curriculum and/or whether the schools’ websites made politically conservative or religious references or were “designed to attract white conservative families.”
Why is this important right now?
The report comes at a critical time as the nation’s first religion-based charter school has been allowed to open in Oklahoma.
Up until now, “[charter] schools [were] deemed public by state law, and must be secular just like any other public school,” according to Chalkbeat reporter Matt Barnum. Allowing a religious charter to open—in this case, an online charter school affiliated with the Catholic Church—“is a direct challenge to existing charter laws, which critics say discriminate against churches and other religious entities,” Barnum states.
“The prospect of religious charter schools threatens to upend American education, far beyond Oklahoma,” Barnum continues, contributing to “the successful conservative campaign to allow more public funding to go to religious education.”
Also hanging in the balance, Barnum writes, is a current U.S. Supreme Court case—Charter Day School, Inc. v. Peltier—that would potentially rule whether charter schools are public or private actors. Should the court rule that charter schools are private entities, the ideologically conservative charters that NPE examines in its report would not only flourish; they would become even more blatant in their instruction of right-wing ideology and more restrictive in denying non-Christian, non-conservative, and LGBTQ+ students to enroll in their schools.
Indeed, the charter school chain at the center of this supreme court case, the Roger Bacon Academy, is examined extensively in the NPE report.
The report calls attention to the daily oath students at the schools are required to chant, in which they pledge to, among other things, “[guard] against the stains of falsehood from the fascination with experts … and from over-reliance on rational argument.”
The report also notes that the schools run by the company “emphasize a ‘traditional curriculum, traditional manners, and traditional respect’—‘more like schools were 50 years ago compared to now,’ according to one of its board members.”