Public Funding for Private Schools

The urge to fragment and undercut public education is not new

There will always be those who, for one reason or another, denigrate the public schools. The schools don’t adhere to this or that parent’s view of how certain things should (or shouldn’t) be taught, often sex education, evolution, or race relations; the public schools cost too much; the public schools are administratively top heavy, teachers are paid too well, they get too much vacation. The direction of these complaints are two fold: either, as we’re seeing now at school board meetings across the country, an activist minority decides they will bend the curriculum to suit their particular ideology—or such a minority wants to establish private schools of a particular bent—and wants public money to fund them. 

Public funding for private schools takes two forms. The most obvious is “school choice”. With school choice public funds follow the student to whatever private or public institution parents choose. Schools either succeed or wither based on parent choice, a choice inevitably based on factors that include the slickness of the school’s advertising, the religious bent of the parents, and profits to be made. More subtle, but equally damaging, is legislative underfunding of public education. As outmigration from public schools cuts into enrollment, funding diminishes, and the children of the least engaged parents are left to be educated in under-supported schools—producing a self-fulfilling prophecy of academic underachievement that supports further outmigration. 

Private education with a subtle economic twist has a checkered history in this country. After the desegregation ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 public education in the American South was undermined by “segregation academies”, schools that overtly excluded students based on race. Although not directly funded by public money, in many Southern communities tax levies for public education were starved—after all, one wouldn’t want one’s tax revenue to fund “them”. Overt segregation in such academies and private schools was found unconstitutional in 1976 in Runyon v. McCrary, but, for those originally segregationist academias that survived, the pattern of segregation was culturally perpetuated—and the established pattern of underfunding for public schools still echoes today.

The push for public funding of private schools lives locally. Chris Cargill is a writer funded by the right wing Washington Policy Center (WPC) and a recently elected City Council Member in Liberty Lake. Lately, thanks to his position with the WPC he has been offered a platform on the opinion page of the Spokesman Review every two weeks. His March 4 opinion column titled “The opportunity to re-think public education is now” is little more than an advertisement for public funding of a private school, the “Liberty Launch Academy” in Liberty Lake, a school that isn’t even open yet. The school motto, “Disrupting Education for Good”, is, perhaps, both apt and honest. In a familiar argument, Cargill first trash talks the costs and educational results of Washington State schools in general and the Central Valley School District schools in particular. Then he moves on to compare the average statewide per student expenditure in public schools ($17,000) to the $12,000 “cost” (actually the proposed charge, not cost) of a year at the Liberty Launch Academy, a school whose economic viability and educational success is, at this time, pure speculation. 

Any doubt as to the sectarian tendencies and political bent of Liberty Launch Academy is dispelled by a visit to their website. There you can listen to the founder, Luke Kjar, start his video ad with a question, “How cool would it be to disrupt education, to change it forever?” That is a statement that assumes that public education is hopelessly valueless. You can read the school’s “Statement of Faith”:

Just as faith and freedom are deeply woven into the ethos of the United States of America, Liberty Launch Academy believes in medical, religious, and educational freedom.

The “View Full FAQ List” section of the Liberty Launch Academy notes that “As a private school we are not required to adopt or follow state curriculum,” regarding “state mandated CRT curriculum” or WA State Sex Education. (Please note there is no “state mandated CRT curriculum.”) In case one wonders whether vaccines would be required the prospective parent is reassured: “We will accept waivers.” Clearly, Liberty Launch is cleverly advertising a political and religious agenda even as they claim, “Our curriculum is planned to align with multiple faiths.”

On the platform the Spokesman offers for his opinion piece Mr. Cargill presses his case for funding such schools as Liberty Launch Academy with your tax dollars. He highlights four different bills in the Washington State legislature, each of which would provide public funds for private education. He whines that “every single one” of them is blocked by “legislative leadership”, by which Mr. Cargill means, of course, the Washington State Democratic legislative majority. 

Beware of those who would trash and defund public education to further a political and sectarian agenda. Such trashing is the educational equivalent of Trump’s shouting “Fake News!”

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. One entry in the  “View Full FAQ List” section of Liberty Launch Academy’s website adds this:

Are you connected with the Liberty Boys Academy? Yes. The Liberty Boys Academy was Luke Kjar’s first iteration of his vision to improve education. The pandemic revealed a wider need for a more engaging curriculum encompassing both genders, so he expanded and refined his vision, culminating in the Liberty Launch Academy (LLA).

This is an interesting spin, considering that the “Liberty Boys Academy” website comes up “This site can’t be reached”, the site of the Academy in Liberty Lake is seen on google maps as bare ground, and a google search turns up information that the Academy will be “a privately-funded rugby academy focusing on innovative tactile and engaging learning strategies for young men” founded by Luke Kjar, “Utah Warriors co-founder and partner Lucas Kjar, founder of the Autosource Dealerships.” Mr. Kjar is clearly a man with a lot of money and a singular mission he wishes to accomplish, which he is having trouble realizing, and, which, at the present time, seems to consist mostly of aspiration visible on a slick website.

CMR’s Heckling Glee

Peas in a pod?

Last Tuesday I watched CNN’s streaming coverage of President Biden’s first State of the Union address. As CNN’s camera panned the crowd I searched in vain for “our” representative to Congress, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (CD-5, eastern Washington). 

As Biden spoke of cancer-producing toxic exposures of our troops it was clear to anyone paying attention that he was leading to a reference to his son Beau. Beau died in 2015 at age 46 of brain cancer years after just such toxic exposure as he served in our military in Iraq. Just after the words “a cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin. I know [pause]” a woman’s voice from the crowd was heard shouting, “You put them there! Thirteen of them.” The crowd responded with booing. To those not present in the chamber it unclear at whom the booing was directed. (The incident can be reviewed just past the middle of this video.) During the booing the camera showed Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) looking pained. 

The next day the origin of the heckling voice and, apparently, the target of the disapproving booing were made clear: Marjorie Taylor Greene and former gym rat Lauren Boebert had been heckling the President a little less audibly from the Republican side of the floor during the entire speech, their idea of a fund-raising spectacle for themselves and the Republican Party. Shameful.

McMorris Rodgers’ official reaction to the State of the Union speech was, as one might expect, the Republican talking points: blame President Biden for weakening the U.S., essentially accusing him of inviting Putin to invade Ukraine (recent coziness of CMR’s “positive disruptor” with Putin notwithstanding) and call for casting off all caution and regulation of the domestic fossil fuel industry. 

Where was McMorris Rodgers that evening? How was she reacting in real time to the speech and to the heckling? The answer appeared the next morning in the Getty image posted below. There we see our Mrs. Milquetoast smiling her toothy grin as Boebert and Greene engage in their heckling. To be fair, KXLY reported, in CMR’s defense, that at the moment depicted Boebert and Greene were shouting “Build the Wall”. Perhaps at the moment that Boebert screamed her interjection about coffins, CMR disapproved, but, given the glee on her face in this photo, we ought not bet on it. A photographic impression is hard to erase—and this one should go down in history. 

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. If you glance at the right wing “news” outlets you will find them equating Boebert’s and Greene’s heckling and interruptions of the Biden’s speech to Nancy Pelosi act in 2020. Then, after listening to the most divisive State of the Union speech in living memory, she silently tore up the paper copy of Trump’s speech while standing on the dais behind Trump’s left ear. Pelosi later said it was “the courteous thing to do, considering the alternative.” I agree. Making a silent action of disapproval is very different from trying to rattle a speaker by heckling. Republican spokespeople have latched on to a false equivalence.

Clergy Speak on Public Schools

We Should Listen and Act

We are in the midst of a a nationwide assault on public school boards and public schools. The trouble is that a solid public education system is woven into our daily lives and expectations so tightly that most of us take its presence and high quality as a given. Can you name even a single member of your local school board? Serving on a school board in Washington State is an unpaid position traditionally held by people with a genuine interest in education, people who, for the most part, did not seek election to a school with the expectation of be harassed and vilified for their public service.

Many school district board meetings have gone from quiet public gatherings of the board members and a few interested observers and commenters to standing-room-only gatherings characterized by belligerence and disruption. The attendees currently seem centered on opposing mask mandates, challenging school boards to rebel against state law while basing their opposition on viral disinformation spread on social media. Mask mandates may be the spark, and, currently, the uniform (in that many of these people are identified by their refusal to wear masks in school board meetings), but the undercurrents are many (See P.S. below). They include demands to teach creationism as science, opposition to comprehensive sex education, advocates for “school choice” (public funding for parochial schools) and movements against advocating for equity and inclusion—a not-so-subtle nod to our history of segregation and racism served up under the guise of opposing “CRT”. 

The movement has managed to elect one of its own. A closer look at a recently elected school board member in the Central Valley School District (southern Spokane valley), Pam Orebaugh, reveals a woman who has said, “Full transparency…. our daughter is not in the district and I don’t know how many times a day I say…. I don’t know if she will ever step foot in the CV school district again!” That’s enlightening. CVSD now has a board member who is so disaffected with public education that her daughter attends school elsewhere. 

There is a prominent strain of far right wing Fundamentalist “Christianity” that runs through this movement as well—so far off the edge of the spectrum of what I recognize from my United Methodist upbringing that pastors are standing up this belligerence. 

The following is a Letter to the Editor that appeared in the Spokesman on February 22. Rev. Genavieve Haywood is the pastor at Veradale United Church of Christ:

Not about masks at CVSD Board meeting

At the Feb. 14 Central Valley School District Board meeting, an anti-mask group with whom board member Pam Orebaugh met on Jan. 31 came forward to serve papers to the board. This is about politics, not masks.

This group, through Pam, pushed the board for a letter to the governor demanding the lifting of the mask mandate. It would create a precedent for school boards to refuse state directions. What mandate will be next? Imagine these parents requiring the overturning of the mandated reporting rules concerning suspected abuse or endangerment of children. This is not about masks.

Three parents raised concerns about racism in our schools specifically about white students using racial slurs toward Black students and white students wrapping themselves in alt-right flags. At past board meetings, the anti-mask group frequently spoke about their concerns for the fragility of white students. They believe that if the facts of history are taught, the white students could not handle the truth. However, the stress and trauma done to our Black, LGBTQ and female students are, by default, sanctioned. There are things that are simply true: the earth is a sphere, the Holocaust did happen, Native lands were stolen, slavery was brutally practiced in our country, and white students can learn to handle the truth.

Public schools belong to all children of differing faiths, gender identities, places of birth, colors of skin, and differing incomes. “Serving the board” was about political power to overturn state direction, whitewashing history and defying science.

The Rev. Genavieve Heywood

It is not only the United Church of Christ. Mark Wingfield, executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global and former associate pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, penned an article in Baptist News Global entitled, “It’s time to stop the insanity that is killing public education”, in which he calls out “A very loud minority of parents [who] want to conform entire school systems to their narrow ways of seeing the world.” I recommend reading Wingfield’s article, which is the more remarkable for its publication in a religiously conservative magazine.

Finally, I recommend reading Doug Muder’s “What if public schools were the target all along?” for a well-crafted argument on the linkage of the current belligerence to “school choice”. Doug Muder is the author of The Weekly Sift, for which I highly recommend you sign up. Mr. Muder is often a guest pastor in the Unitarian Church. 

It is time for us to rouse ourselves from our complacency about public schools and start paying attention. One hopes that with Covid beginning to fade and mask mandates (hopefully) in the rearview mirror (based on science, not nonsense) school board meetings held in person will see more attendance by people interested in understanding and supporting the work of school boards rather than assailing them. Get involved!

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. Pam Orebaugh’s total agreement (10 on a scale of 10) on her “School Board Candidate Survey” demonstrate the ideological linkages well. On school choice: 

A voucher system for education should be available to all families. These taxpayer-funded vouchers should “travel with the student,” and be used at parents’ discretion for the educational model they choose, including charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

On the origin of life and the environment:

Public schools should “teach the controversy” regarding the origins of life. Additionally, students should be exposed to different theories of climate change while focusing on universally agreed upon stewardship measures, such as not littering, conserving resources, etc.

“Theories of climate change”??? Shall we boil down climate change to Lady Bird Johnson’s crusade against litter? I like a visually clean environment, but litter is hardly an existential threat…