Ohio churches create taxpayer-funded school, outraging state's ACLU chapter

The ACLU says that taxpayer dollars funding the churches' schools would be a 'troubling step'

A religious organization has partnered with an Ohio church to create a pilot school that seeks to service the Columbus area's low-income students by offering them taxpayer-funded scholarships.

"The goal of this program is to reform our broken education system by creating 5-day-per week, in person, neighborhood Christian schools that are financially affordable," Aaron Baer, president of the Center for Christian Virtue, told Fox News Digital Monday.

The Center for Christian Virtue partnered with Memorial Baptist Church in Columbus, which is converting its space typically used for Sunday school into a kindergarten-through-second-grade classroom that will serve students who previously attended struggling public schools.

Students in the area typically come from low-income families and have difficulty paying for a private education, but the new pilot program aims to assist them by using money through Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program, for which the students qualify based on income and school attendance guidelines.

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A school classroom.

A school classroom. (FNC)

"Ohio's scholarship program funds students, not schools," Baer explained. "The funding goes to the family, and the family chooses where to direct the dollars for tuition."

Seven churches pitched in to help launch the project, providing seed money until the schools are able to use the state's scholarship program.

"For each school plant, the local congregation and community raise $100,000 in private donations to fund the start-up costs, then the students' tuition is covered by Ohio's EdChoice scholarship program," Baer said.

The goal of the school will be to provide students a quality education while also teaching Christian values. Baer recently told NPR that the school aims to combat ideologies that tell "little boys that they can become little girls and telling girls that it’s not good enough to be a girl and they can be a boy instead."

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School classroom in New York.

School classroom in New York. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

"They’re harming kids with these dangerous ideologies," he argued.

But the focus on those values has raised alarm from the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which called the pilot program a "troubling step."

"The diversion of taxpayer money to schools of that nature is a very troubling step. An expansion of that type of program would be a further troubling step in the erosion of the separation of church and state and the establishment of what amounts to a state-endorsed religion," Deputy Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio David Carey told NPR.

Carey argued that public education should focus on a diverse array of subjects, exposing students to different ideas that he argues might not be taught at a Christian school.

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"Part of the virtue of a public education is exposure to people of different backgrounds, exposure to different viewpoints. No education is complete without exposure to the realities of history in American society and ideally, a range of different viewpoints. Whether that is something these schools would accomplish seems questionable. But, of course, that would depend on what they intend to teach," Carey said.

But Baer argues that the point is to help kids out of failing schools while teaching them the virtues of the Bible.

"The ACLU would rather keep kids illiterate in failing public schools than risk the chance that kids learn to read and pick up a Bible," Baer told Fox News. "It's not the first time in history that powerful people have opposed giving the masses a quality education."

The ACLU of Ohio did not respond to Fox News Digital's request for comment by press time.

Children praying in public park.

Children praying in public park. (iStock)

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Baer hopes that the program expands after demonstrating its success in Columbus, saying he would like to see the model adopted across the country.

"We've got the First Amendment and recent Supreme Court precedent on our side, and we're not going to stop until every kid has access to a high quality Christian education in their neighborhood," he said. "Lord willing soon, on every corner that you see a church, you'll also see a Christian school."