Church hopes to open private or charter school at former Mueller Elementary

07/31/2013 5:59 PM

08/01/2013 10:00 AM

A Wichita church that bought the former Mueller Elementary School wants to turn it into a private or charter school and plans to lobby for scholarship tax credits and other school choice initiatives.

“From what I’m hearing, there’s a lot of people that are ready for this,” said Wade Moore, pastor of Christian Faith Centre, which paid the district $40,000 for the Mueller building in June.

The school, which closed last year as part of cost-cutting measures, will open this fall as a day care and preschool, Moore said. By next fall, the church hopes to reopen it as the Urban Preparatory Academy of Wichita, a kindergarten through fifth-grade private school tailored primarily to African-American children. The school is at 2821 E. 24th St. North, near 24th and Estelle.

On Thursday morning, the church will host an informational breakfast at the school that will feature Alicia Thomas Morgan, a member of the Georgia state Legislature who pushed for tax credits and other school choice measures in that state.

“We’re working to put together a coalition so that we can push for charter schools and school choice in Kansas,” Moore said. “We have a wealth of knowledge in our community that if we just had the liberty to use it, it would really transform lives.”

A bill that would have created a special scholarship program aimed at promoting school choice died in the Kansas House during the last session. The bill would have given tax credits of up to $10million a year for corporations contributing to the scholarship program, which would have allowed low-income or special-needs children in elementary and secondary schools to attend private schools.

Kansas has 15 charter schools, but unlike charters in other parts of the country, they operate under direct supervision of the local school district. Some lawmakers, including State Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita, have said they plan to push ahead with expanding charter schools after the state Supreme Court rules on a pending school-finance lawsuit.

Thursday’s breakfast at the school is sponsored in part by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, a reform organization headquartered in Indianapolis.

Moore said the Urban Preparatory Academy would be geared toward minority children, particularly African-Americans from the neighborhoods surrounding Mueller, but that it would be “open to everyone.”

Wichita school district officials traditionally have opposed independent charters, saying they could conflict with the district’s efforts to offer a variety of learning environments within the public sphere, including magnet schools. Mueller Elementary, in fact, which moved to a different building last fall, is an aerospace and engineering magnet.

Moore said he plans to visit urban preparatory schools in other parts of the country, including Dallas and Memphis, to gather advice and develop a plan for attracting teachers, students and families.

“I’m not pointing the finger or blaming anybody, but we have to be real about this thing,” he said. “When we look at African-American children and we see the dropout rate, see the test scores we can do more.”

Moore said the school would charge tuition and seek private donors, at least at first. He envisions the school offering longer school days Mondays through Thursdays, a half day Fridays, and professional development for teachers on Friday afternoons.

“Now we have an opportunity to go ahead and do something and impact lives, and we’re going to go ahead and move forward,” he said. “Tax credits, vouchers, that would be an added plus. That would take a burden off us, but we’re going to go ahead and make that sacrifice and go as far as we can go with it.”

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