By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Following a debate on whether charter schools or public schools indoctrinate kids politically, Wyoming’s top elected officials on Wednesday approved three new charter schools for the state.
A second key argument was whether charter schools would steal resources from public schools.
The Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board (SLIB) at a special meeting on Wednesday approved Prairie View Community School for the town of Chugwater, Wyoming Classical Academy for Casper and Cheyenne Classical Academy for Cheyenne. These approvals are contingent upon the schools securing acceptable contracts with the board.
The SLIB consists of the state’s top five elected officials, Gov. Mark Gordon, Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, Treasurer Curt Meier, Auditor Kristi Racines, and Schools Superintendent Brian Schroeder.
The schools’ founders now will enter into contract negotiations with the state to establish five-year charter agreements. If contract negotiations are unsuccessful, then their applications would come back before the SLIB board to be reconsidered.
A recurring argument on Wednesday was whether the charter schools – specifically Wyoming and Cheyenne Classical Academies – would indoctrinate children with specific political beliefs.
Both schools are under the umbrella of Hillsdale College, a conservative, private liberal arts college in northern Michigan.
“Hillsdale curriculum dances around the idea of Christian education,” said Kris Korfanta, a retired public school teacher and mother to grown children. “It’s a slippery slope, the separation of church and state.”
Tate Mullen, governmental affairs director for the Wyoming Education Association, also voiced concerns regarding the Cheyenne and Casper schools, saying the curriculum they are adopting “has been criticized for its glossy spin on American history, as well as for its ideological tilt on topics like affirmative action… (and) negative take on the New Deal and the Great Society (welfare programs), and cursory presentation of global warming.”
But Frannie Bailey, a mom with five children living in Cheyenne said it’s the public schools doing the indoctrinating.
“I know a teacher who was asked… to refer to the student by different pronouns than what the student was,” said Bailey.
She said the counselor told the teacher not to use the new pronouns at parent-teacher conferences, in front of the child’s parents, because the parents didn’t know the child was using alternate pronouns.
Bailey also said junior high teachers had been assigning “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” which is a book about two teen, male friends who end up in a homosexual relationship. Parents petitioned school authorities and the book was “pulled from the classroom within three days,” said Bailey, but it had already been taught for four years.
“I don’t want these social ideologies being pushed in our public schools,” said Bailey. “I know the other side says they don’t want certain ideologies being pushed. I just want it to be neutral.”
Dr. Randy Everett, a surgeon in Cheyenne and pioneer of school-of-choice options in Fort Collins, also defended the classical charter schools, saying the their curriculum is a “remarkable” sequence developed by education expert E.D. Hirsch.
Hirsch was “not at all conservative,” and authored core knowledge curricula, said Everett.
“I’m not sure if (critics’ comments) were kind of bland remarks just made out of prejudice, but the core knowledge sequence really is remarkable and I invite you to look at it,” he said.
The approval also followed robust debate about whether the charter schools will steal resources from established public schools.
“Districts across the state are working with limited resources and most are having substantial difficulties attracting and retaining the types of educators they need,” said Mullen.
The Wyoming Education Association is currently suing the state of Wyoming, saying its education funding is not enough.
“If we’re having difficulty filling these vacancies in our schools already, where are (the charter schools) going to draw from?” asked Mullen.
At a Sept. 7 SLIB meeting, Russ Donley, the board of trustees chair for Wyoming Classical Academy, touted charter school approvals as a way to cause positive improvement in public schools by introducing competition.
“We look at our school as lifting all the boats that are on the lake,” said Donley, who had throughout his presentation said there would be benefits from schools having to compete for state funds.
Though she voted to approve the schools, Auditor Kristi Racines first said their budgets will not work if the Wyoming Legislature does not “tweak the statute” for special education funding.
There is currently no vehicle in Wyoming law to give federal special education funding to Wyoming’s state-approved charter schools, Racines had noted at the Sept. 7 meeting.
A state attorney from the Attorney General’s office told Gov. Gordon at the Wednesday meeting that the SLIB may be able to apply for federal funding on the schools’ behalf, but that was an interpretative conclusion.
“(We need to) get that fixed to make sure the special education funding follows the student,” said Racines.
The Legislature’s Joint Education Committee is “looking at that issue,” said Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Casper, in a later text to Cowboy State Daily. Olsen is also a founding member and attorney for Cheyenne Classical Academy.