Legislation that was recently proposed to the Minnesota Senate could allow public high school students around the state the opportunity to receive credit from private institutions. The change is being suggested primarily as a method through which students can learn about Biblical doctrine as fact without facing restrictions on the teaching of theology in public schools made necessary by the First Amendment.
Under this proposal, around a third of a public high school student’s credits could be taken at similar, private educational facilities, provided their school develops a system for allowing the transfer of said classes.
The most vocal advocates of the motion are a group of Alexandria, Minnesota citizens. These individuals are purportedly inspired by the teachings of noted American creationist, Ken Ham. Advocates contend that the opportunity to take religious courses would better round out a student’s academic life. Furthermore, they believe that a supplementary religious education will better prepare their students to live under the parameter of a Biblical value system.
Last fall, Alexandrian students had the opportunity to take such courses, as a small supplemental educational facility, known as NorthStar Christian Academy, was recently made operational. Proponents of this measure hope to see this system catch on, with Minnesota only the first step as a part of a national campaign.
However, not everyone is on board with the proposed legislation and the ramifications it would have on the public schools system. In an interview for the Star Tribune, Alexandria superintendent Julie Critz explained the challenges this proposal would present, saying, “Hypothetically, [students] could take their reading, math and science at a nonpublic school and so could graduate from our school without ever taking a core class from us… If you don’t accept the credit, likely the private school is going to challenge you in court. If you do accept the credit and it is religious in content, then you will be challenged from the other side. We do not want to be placed in the middle.”
The same piece goes on to present the alternative viewpoint, as expressed by Brent Smith, chairman of the Northstar Christian Academy board. He argued that, “The idea of a supplemental school is an important social and educational benefit…The kids can be taught some of the things that align with the values of the parents who are able to pay, and then go back to the public school.”
The question, in this case, is two-fold. First, there is a concern that students will not receive an adequate education if their schooling as outsourced to an independent institution. Additionally, there is the question of local control, which has arisen largely as a result of federal education standards.
This debate will continue in coming years, as parents become concerned that the education system does not accurately represent their worldview. Though public schooling seems to be relatively fixed within the American ethos, reconciling competing values in a manner that appeases communities whose members are deeply divided ideologically is a struggle inherent to any government institution.