Students at Duncanville's Advantage Academy follow biblical principles, talk openly about faith and receive guidance from a gregarious former pastor who still preaches when he speaks.
But his congregation is a swath of low-income students. And his sermon is an educator's mantra about the opportunities of charter schools.
Advantage's state-funded campuses showcase the latest breed of charter schools, born from faith-based principles and taxpayer funds. More than 20 percent of Texas' charter schools have some kind of religious ties. That's the case for six of the seven approved this year, including ones in Frisco and Arlington…
"The church-state line is beginning to blur," said Bruce Cooper, a professor at Fordham University's Graduate School of Education, who has studied religious charter schools. "We may be coming to a midpoint between the best of what is private and the best of what is public."
Critics fear the fuzzy division means taxpayers are footing the bill for religious instruction…
… Dozens of Texas charter school leaders or board members hold prominent positions in the church, where the schooling sometimes takes place. Parochial schools reinvent themselves as charters, often with little guidance on running a public school. And the mission of the school itself typically stems from the values of the religious group…
Advantage Academy sits in two nondescript one-story buildings on the edge of Duncanville , next to a bank and a guarded office complex. Poster board covers the walls inside with stenciled letters that read "Character Counts." Reminders of the academy's seven pillars, including integrity, humility and authority, hang in classrooms next to pie charts and pictures of President Barack Obama.
Advantage markets its teaching of creationism and intelligent design. It offers a Bible class as an elective and encourages personal growth through hard work and "faith in God and country." On a recent morning, a dozen uniformed seventh-graders hunched over worksheets, turning fractions into decimals…
The ties extend beyond Christian organizations. Houston's highly regarded Harmony Public Schools are run by Turkish Muslims who embody the philosophies of a popular imam. Islamic Relief sponsors Minnesota's Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, whose curriculum emphasizes Muslim culture and Arabic language. Students at Ben Gamla Charter School in Florida eat kosher food in the cafeteria and learn Hebrew…
AT A GLANCE: NEW SCHOOLS' TIES
Six of the seven charter schools approved by the [Texas] State Board of Education this year have religious ties.School: Compass Academy, Odessa
Religious tie: Partner with CrossRoads Fellowship Church
School: Arrow Academy, Temple
Religious tie: None found
School: Newman International Academy of Arlington
Religious tie: Sponsor is Saint Servers International, a Christian organization run by the Rev. Lazarus George
School: Leadership Prep School, Frisco
Religious tie: Partner with Elevate Life Church
School: Premier Academy of Learning, La Marque
Religious tie: Partner with Abundant Life Church; future superintendent is a pastor
School: The High School for Business and Economic Success, Houston
Religious tie: Superintendent is a pastor
School: WALIPP-TSU Preparatory Academy, Houston
Religious tie: Sponsor is William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity; Lawson founded Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and is now pastor emeritus.
Texas charter schools (ties to religious groups)
CHARTER SCHOOLS WITH TIES TO RELIGIOUS GROUPS RAISE FEARS ABOUT STATE FUNDS' USE; November 22, 2010; Dallas Morning News (TX)