Many parents agonize over decisions involving their children’s education.
Public schools are often seen as increasingly dangerous, and with home-schooling not an option for most of today’s working parents, they often turn to religious schools to educate their children.
The ability to teach religious morals and values that are off-limits in public schools is a big selling point for parochial schools.
According to state figures, 5,584 students attended 22 state-approved private religious schools in Spokane last year.
Overall, the number of children in state-approved private schools rose from 59,564 in 1987 to 74,282 in 1995, which accounted for 7 percent of the students in Washington state. Of the 458 private schools in the state (10 more than in 1987), 367 have a religious affiliation.
For parent Kami Ricco of Spokane, there was never a question that her daughter, Cassie, would attend a religious school. Now in the second grade, Cassie has been a student at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic School since she was in kindergarten.
Ricco plans for her other daughters, ages 2 years and seven months, to one day join the 100 students at St. Francis, 3715 N. Standard.
Cassie herself prefers attending a religious school rather than a public one.
“It’s really nice,” says Cassie. “It’s really fun doing math, and I like writing.
“I like the homework we get to do, and I really like it a lot.”
Ricco says she and her husband, Bryan, believe children who attend Catholic schools receive a better education than they would in public school.
“They learn everything that kids at the public school do, if not more,” Ricco says.
The fact that religion is taught daily and children attend Mass every week is significant to Ricco.
“They’re taught morals every day, which is important,” she says.
Even though parents need to teach morality at home, Ricco says, when children hear it from their teachers in addition to hearing it at home, it emphasizes what is being taught.
Plus, Ricco worries about the drugs and gangs present in many public schools.
“It’s just so scary raising kids anymore,” she says.
The fact that St. Francis Xavier has a limit of 22 students per class is also a plus.
“The classes are small,” says Ricco. “I like that.”
Tuition costs are not prohibitive, Ricco says. Her family pays between $100 and $150 a month, depending on how much money they have.
Last year, when her husband took a three-month sick leave from his job as an auto mechanic, the school didn’t object when they couldn’t pay anything, says Ricco.
“They didn’t make you feel like dirt,” she says. “If you’ve got it, you’ve got it, and if you don’t, they won’t push you away.”
A year’s tuition is $2,500 per student, says Richard Winkler, principal, but school officials simply ask parents to pay what they can afford. The rest is made up with parish subsidies and fund-raising events.
Religious education is important to provide a good foundation for life, Winkler says.
“We’re not trying to increase self-image. We’re trying to build character.
“The religious aspect of the curriculum is extremely important to us. Most of it is simply Christian family values.”
Religion also features prominently in the curriculum at Northwest Christian School. The school bases its teachings on biblical principles, says Lew Button, headmaster.
“We try to base our operating style on the absolute truths,” says Button. School officials try to work closely with parents regarding lessons in accountability, responsibility and direction - and Jesus.
“Kids are looking for direction,” says Button. “Kids are looking for meaning.”
Other benefits are more immediate, however. “It’s a nice, safe place to send kids,” he says.
Northwest Christian is a nondenominational school that serves 575 students in grades K-12 at two locations: Grades K-8 attend school at 1412 W. Central, while the high school is housed in a newly renovated building at 5104 E. Burnhill Road in Colbert.
Button believes the country’s value system will continue to deteriorate because public school teachers are not allowed to teach from the Bible.
“The public school system is in trouble,” says Jim Riggan, principal of Liberty Baptist School, 320 W. Graves Road. “The socialistic system (we live in) is destroying the school system,” says Riggan.
While he’s not sure Christian schools can solve the problem, something needs to be done to fix it, he says.
The private, religious school, with 10 students in grades K-8, was founded a year ago because children’s needs were not being met in public schools, Riggan says.
However, Liberty Baptist differs from most of the area’s religious schools because neither the school nor its staff is licensed by the state.
But Riggan doesn’t believe the lack of a license should impact the students’ academic future.
Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction John Pearson disagrees.
“Legally, those students are truant,” he says.
School-age students must attend a state-approved private or public school, or be home-schooled, he says.
Students who do not attend an approved school are reported as truant to the superintendent, who in turn is obligated to report them to the prosecuting attorney, says Pearson.
While legal action is usually not taken because prosecutors are too involved with criminal activity, students could face a problem of another kind - when they apply for college.
While most colleges accept high school diplomas at face value, some do care, and students who do not attend a state-approved school might not meet college entrance requirements, Pearson says.
Most private schools in Washington are approved since requirements are simple: Employ one certified teacher per group of 25 students, and meet all fire, health and safety regulations.
Religious schools have an advantage over public schools because there is no objection about the appropriateness of teaching values, says State Superintendent of Public Instruction Judith Billings. In public schools, there is always the question of whose values should be taught.
Religious schools also have an edge on the problem of drugs and gangs.
“Since any private school can choose its clientele, they are more more likely to have less problems,” says Billings.
Another plus is the small class sizes that religious schools can maintain, allowing teachers to know their students better.
Billings says there has been an effort over the past five years to reduce class sizes in public schools, especially in grades K-2.
The state funding formula for those grades was changed to one teacher for every 19 students, while other grades provide one teacher per 21 students.
Button, Winkler and Riggan agree that as parents continue to look for alternatives to public school, religious schools increasingly will become a solution.
“I think they’re here to stay,” says Riggan.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.