Thursday, March 09, 2006


Parents and teachers who would like to escape government schools might be ready to talk turkey about starting a private school. Among the problems they don’t think can be fixed:

-- Entitlement fever, fed by the unions and school administrators. It’s the old “keep up with the Joneses” peer pressure that has school districts falling all over themselves to build on infrastructure and add staff and programs in the absence of evidence that they’re necessary or will even help academically.

-- Enormous additional costs of Outcome-Based Education in the state’s accreditation standards and assessments that have little to do with traditional academics and lots to do with social engineering.

-- Stagnant bureaucracy which sucks away a great deal of money before it can reach teachers’ paychecks or children in the classroom.

-- An education system based on the lowest common denominator. If every child can’t have something, no child can have it. That attitude has created widespread, entrenched social leveling that, by definition, shortchanges the top 50% of students.

The worst thing that could happen to public schools is to lose the middle- and upper classes. They’re the ones with the political power, who could fight for public education – if it would serve their children’s needs. When it consistently fails to do so, they have the money to leave. And there goes a sizeable chunk of political power for the public schools. It’s too bad.

It’s possible that if enough of the Class I country schools get gutsy and assertive enough to privatize in the wake of how they’ve been treated by governmental institutions seeking to force them to consolidate with bigger districts against their will, those governmental institutions might wake up and clean up their act.

But it’s also possible that the Class I parents might pave the way for more urban parents to follow their lead. So it would be a very interesting endeavor all ‘round.

On to the task of starting a new private school: if there are no private schools in the picture, you’ll have to start one from scratch, or start homeschooling in some form. It’s pretty daunting. Where do you start? Ideas from GoBig Ed and its one-of-a-kind online resource guide, the Encyclopedia of Education (left-hand column on the
www.GoBigEd.com homepage):

-- If a private school is your goal, gather research on private education and call a meeting to discuss the possibilities for starting a private school in your community.

Buy an ad in your local paper to establish yourselves as credible and serious. Let’s face it: it also helps to have the local paper think of you as a revenue-producer, not just someone who wants free publicity. Treat them well, and they’ll cover your efforts well.

A core group of four or five people should come out of this, and you can discuss who would like to lead the group and who would like to take on other responsibilities. It would be wonderful if your group includes a banker, a lawyer, an accountant and someone in the construction business.

Your group should begin contacting community leaders to explain what you’re doing and gain support. Other tasks include writing a business plan, doing research online and on the phone, and talking with staff at the Nebraska Department of Education.

-- Decide whether you want to be a secular school or a religious school.

The obvious advantage of religious education is that it’s best for kids. But there are other benefits: you can forge a relationship with a local church to lease space economically for your school if the government won’t let you have your old Class I building. Then you can piggyback on (and help pay for, through your lease) some of the church’s services and amenities, including a parking lot, playground and so forth.

Another advantage not always seen is that, with a religious foundation, it is easier to handle the things that always come up when groups of people work together: conflict, gossip, misunderstanding and pride. You can solve them a lot more easily with religious principles that everybody shares, since the answers to all those problems are right there in the Bible. One wonders whether public schools would have gotten so problematic if Biblical principles hadn’t been expunged from school management and daily life a generation ago. Now, you can put them front and center, and that’s a good thing.

-- Review the Nebraska Department of Education’s rules and regulations for private schools and homeschools to decide how to structure your school.

See Rules 12, 13 and 14 on

-- Find an existing successful private school or association, visit them, and copy them.

Highly recommended: the Hillsdale Academy,
www.hillsdale.edu/academy . . . the Core Knowledge schools, www.coreknowledge.org . . . and the Association of Classical and Christian Schools, www.accsedu.org

All three of these have start-up notebooks, reference/curriculum guides and other materials that you can order that would be of great help.

Closer to home, you might contact Trinity Christian School in Omaha or the Wider Omaha Lutheran Schools Association in Omaha for a tour, advice, and perhaps some mentoring.

-- Form a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) corporation to govern the school and be able to receive grants and donations.

It’s possible that any number of services for rural economic development could help set this up for you, or direct you to an attorney if there isn’t one nearby.

-- Ask to have the existing Class I school building donated to you, since neither local property taxpayers nor state taxpayers will have to help you pay for operating costs from now on.

You’re saving them countless thousands of dollars. The least they can do is give you the building.

-- If expenses are just too high for families to bear, consider a hybrid between a private school and a homeschool.

Consider a different schedule, such as 2, 3 or 4 days a week in school, and the rest of the time in a homeschool in which the parents are closely guided and supervised by the schoolteacher.

Another alternative: half-days in school, and half-days at home. This arrangement is known as the “University Model” with its own association housed at:


Another alternative: hiring a tutor and pay only hourly wage instead of a professional salary with professional expectations. If there is a retired teacher in your community who wants to work part-time, or someone else who wants the job, and if that person’s spouse already has medical benefits, you’re set. Otherwise, it’s not affording the salary that’s hard, but coming up with the benefits that professionals expect today. The down side is that usually it’s up to the parents to make sure the kids are doing the work, because the tutor’s job is to deliver the skill, not necessarily to develop the whole child.

For more on this phenomenon, you could google articles by the writer Brigid McMenamin and tutoring.

-- Or, to save money, operate your school on a four-day school week.

More than 100 rural school districts around the country, mostly in rural areas, have pared back their school schedule to four days a week. Students may come to school 20 or 30 minutes earlier, and stay 20 to 30 minutes later each day. Proponents say that knocking off on Fridays or Mondays creates better time management and focus, and saves money on transportation, utilities and teacher and substitute pay. Fridays can become occasional field trip days, or a chance for kids to work on sports, music, hobbies and other outside interests on their own. See:


-- Individual homeschooling:

Nebraska requires homeschoolers to be in session 1,032 hours per year for elementary grades. You must teach language arts, math, science, social studies and health. There are no teacher qualifications unless the teacher is employed by the family and money changes hands. You have to file an annual notice of intent to homeschool with the State Department of Education by Aug. 1, or 30 days before you get started. There are no particular recordkeeping or testing requirements.

According to homeschooling proponents, by eighth grade homeschooled students score four grade levels above the national average on standardized tests. That statistic alone may make all that you have to do well worth it.

You will want to attend a homeschooling convention or curriculum fair – Nebraska’s is scheduled for March 31 in Lincoln; see
www.nchea.org -- and tap into the used curriculum market to get started. There are many other aids available. Start with:

Nebraska Christian Home Educators Association,

Omaha chapter, Home Educators Network:

For a list of HEN activities and resources:

National Homeschooling Links:


Homeschooling / private schooling contracts:

Homeschooling co-ops / curriculum providers:

-- Utilize distance education.

There’s a whole new world of online academies that can supplement private education, parent-provided homeschooling or a part-time private-school co-op. For example, see:


-- Form a co-op for a full- or part-time paid teacher in a multifamily homeschool:

This is easier than achieving the accreditation requirements of a private school, though the most difficult part of that is hiring a certified teacher, meeting bathroom and fire safety requirements, and having a sizeable library.

Again, check the State Department of Education’s rules and talk with staffers about establishing a “multifamily attendance center.”

However, for many parents, hiring a pro makes a lot more sense than trying to do-it-yourself, and a multifamily co-op, though it takes careful communications and lots of planning, may be the best way.

Besides a core classroom teacher, who probably will have to multitask among several grade levels, you might consider hiring an aide, subject-area tutors or recruiting volunteers. This not only enriches the children’s experiences, but it gives your main teacher a little bit of planning time each day. Examples: someone to come in and do music, P.E., art, Spanish, Latin, or any number of other subjects that parents really want for their children.

-- When the tax dollars are yanked away, how on earth can we pay for all this?

Independence is not cheap. It is tragic to lose the funding support of state and local taxes. But that’s the price you pay for keeping your school alive, either as a new private school or as a multifamily homeschool with one or more paid instructors.

You’ll want to establish a school budget showing sources and uses of funds. There’s a good example for a school start-up in Appendix A of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools’ School Start-Up Notebook (

Of course, the ideal situation is to find an “angel” who will underwrite a major portion of your start-up costs. You can also find a professional fund-raiser who can help you come up with a winning combination of tuition and fund-raising revenues. Nobody likes to fund-raise constantly, but that’s a way of life in private education. In a low-income, low-population area, it would seem to call for fund-raising in the service and food areas, rather than carnivals or charity auctions.

Even then, it’s not a good idea to subsidize tuition too much with fund-raising; part of your purpose is to make people responsible and independent, so you’ll always want parents (and grandparents!) to be paying the majority of your costs.

A big pitfall is to try to be too much, too soon. Stick to your knittin’. What you want is to become a “content-based school,” and that by definition is much cheaper and less complicated than a “process-based school” that our public schools have almost all become. Parents who have become too indoctrinated in expecting “progressive” process methods such as lavish technology, a focus on feelings instead of facts, and group projects and extracurricular activities instead of good teaching and individual study, may fear that they’re shortchanging their children with what might appear to be a bare-bones curriculum. But it’s not! It’s what they need.

Here’s a tremendous bank of articles from inc. magazine:


Here’s good background on financial aid opportunities for homeschoolers, including assistance for special-needs children:


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