There is good news for the students and parents of Brighton Public Schools and the taxpayers of Michigan. The Brighton Public School Board voted to not charter Pasquale Battaglia’s American Classical Academy on January 26th. This is after many people voiced their objection to a charter school opening in their community that would take students and money away from the public schools and hand it to the for-profit charter school’s management company. Another issue was Battaglia’s blatant racism, religious bigotry, and tea party rhetoric plastered all over social media. The level of vitriol aimed at the President of the United States and First Lady, anyone who practiced a religion other than fundamentalist Christianity, and his vehemence toward people of color were shocking and spoke loudly of someone unfit to educate children. Another obvious problem with the Lindbom Classical Academy was the possibility it would be a religious school illegally funded with taxpayer money. It certainly appeared on twitter that was the intention of Battaglia all along. As the day drew closer for the Brighton Public Schools Board to make their final decision, the rhetoric however changed.
On January 24, 2015, Pasquale “Pat” Battaglia argued on twitter that his charter school in Brighton wouldn’t be a religious school.
— Pasquale Battaglia (@BattagliaPat) January 24, 2015
Two days later, the Livingston Daily Press & Argus published an opinion column written by Battaglia’s partner, Richard Streetman, claiming that the charter school he and Battaglia wanted to open wouldn’t be a religious school because that’s against state and federal law. Richard Streetman is absolutely right, it is against the law to use public taxpayer funds to pay for a school that teaches religion. In the article he writes:
Those of us on the development team share the goal of the Charter School Initiative of Hillsdale College “to train the minds and improve the hearts of young people through a rigorous, classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.”
Streetman quotes the mission statement of Hillsdale Academy. Sounds pretty good; liberal arts and sciences, moral character and civic virtue. It seems odd though that a school that preaches about not taking any federal or state money to run their institution would be helping charter schools open, because they do take federal and state revenues to operate. Is Streetman telling the truth that Lindbom Classical Academy wouldn’t have been run as a private Christian school like Hillsdale Academy?
The best way to find out is go to the source. Hillsdale College offers the Barney Charter School Initiative as an “outreach project” to open charter schools based on the Hillsdale College model. In their introduction they state:
To advance the founding of classical charter schools, Hillsdale College works with school founding groups of parents and local citizens who care deeply about education, who plan to apply for a charter, and who are interested in an association with Hillsdale. As a relationship forms with a group, Hillsdale will assist in creating and implementing the school’s academic program. Drawing upon the experience of our College’s faculty members who have led classical schools, and an education department uniquely devoted to classical liberal arts learning, these new schools will promote a liberal and civic education in America’s public schools.
So yes, these are supposed to be charter schools teaching classical education per the Hillsdale College model, and this model is used at Hillsdale Academy. Hillsdale Academy is a K-12 private school on the Hillsdale College campus. Per the college’s strict rule of not taking any federal or state revenues to operate their school, it is private, and parents pay tuition for their children to attend. Private schools offering religious education as part of their curriculum are legal. The issue here is the college is working to spread this model to charter schools. The next section gives more detail about the educational philosophy of Hillsdale College and Academy, and the charter schools Hillsdale College wants to assist with opening nationwide:
To understand the purpose and direction of our work with charter schools, we must first revisit the mission of Hillsdale College. Since 1844, our mission has been “to furnish all persons who wish, irrespective of nationality, color, or sex, a literary and scientific education” outstanding among American colleges, “and to combine with this such moral and social instruction as will best develop the minds and improve the hearts of its pupils. The College considers itself a trustee of modern man’s intellectual and spiritual inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture, a heritage finding its clearest expression in the American experiment of self-government under law. By training the young in the liberal arts, Hillsdale College prepares students to become leaders worthy of that legacy.”
This mission has led us to consider how we can lead in the effort to recover our public schools from the tide of a hundred years of progressivism that has corrupted our nation’s original faithfulness to the previous 24 centuries of teaching the young the liberal arts in the West. The public school is arguably among the most important battlegrounds in our war to reclaim our country from forces that have drawn so many away from first principles. Almost 90 percent of our nation’s youth attend public schools, and there is no question that public education across America is in trouble. To abandon the majority of our children to bad education is unconscionable.
Hillsdale College’s mission is to save America from it’s terrible, progressive, secular education system that isn’t teaching children proper Judeo-Christian values. This charter school initiative is beginning to sound a lot less secular.
Hillsdale College wants to make it so easy for people to start their own Christian classical academy, they even provide reference guides that outline their K-12 school model, what sources are used for curriculum (Including the Bible), and even describe in detail how to start the school day. Once a week, the school holds a weekly prayer and sermon.
The College Chaplain attends the opening ceremony and offers a nondenominational
prayer, followed by a short reading from the Bible. Either he or the headmaster then offers a sermon or
leads a brief discussion that elicits a significant point from the shared passage. These sessions promote the spiritual development of the students within the faith traditions of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
Prayers are also given at lunch time, where both staff and students eat together. In addition, there is a section specifically describing religious instruction that is part of the Hillsdale model.
Hillsdale College’s Judeo-Christian tradition broadly guides the course of study and instruction at Hillsdale Academy. The Academy offers instruction based upon traditional, nondenominational biblical beliefs, principles and virtues that seek to develop those qualities of life characteristic of man’s understanding of his relationship to his Creator and his place in the world. A weekly service conducted by the College Chaplain and the headmaster addresses the spiritual needs of the Academy’s students through Scripture, a homily, prayer and song. Parents are encouraged to participate in these services.
Hillsdale Academy is a Christian school. Unfortunately for Pasquale Battaglia and Richard Streetman, to open a school following Hillsdale College’s model is a violation of state and federal law. They’re not the only ones trying and failing to open one of these schools in Michigan. In Traverse City, Jane Rodda Breederland wants to open a Hillsdale College charter school this year. Like her Livingston County counterparts, she’s just as clueless about education and as free about expressing her narrow-minded views online.
If Battaglia and Streetman want to open Lindbom Classical Academy as a private school and charge tuition so they can teach the same bigotry and racism to impressionable young children that Battaglia espouses on social media, let them do it. The taxpayers of Michigan should not be expected to pay for it, and Hillsdale College clearly has an agenda to undermine public education in this country. Michigan and other states needs to take a closer look at this college and whether their initiative to open for-profit charter schools puts them within the purview of violating their own policy of never touching the state’s dirty public money.