As part of a professional network of which I am a member I was recently among a group of Christian school teachers and administrators who were asked about our experiences with funding from the state and federal government. Programs such as IDEA and ESEA, among others, provide funding from the government for various educational purposes, ranging from professional development to textbook purchases to services for students with disabilities.
Sadly, in my opinion, more and more Christian schools are looking for, finding, and utilizing government funds for parts of the services that they provide. There is even at least one internationally recognized Christian school association that encourages this.
My opinion, based on my own experience with federal/state funding of any kind is “stay away from it.” I have had experience in Christian ministries in both the residential childcare and Christian education fields, and in both settings I dealt with state regulations for licensing/accreditation, and in both settings I/we had the opportunity to “tap in” to funding streams from the state and federal governments. The temptation is strong for ministries that rarely if ever have any extra money and are always struggling to find ways to pay for much needed benefits or services. But the reality is that state/federal funding always comes with strings attached. We (collectively) have probably perfected the art of justifying our acceptance of such funds in one way or another–typically by saying the funding will go directly to a SPED provider not to the school, for example; that it will be used to pay for textbooks that we would have purchased anyway; or that it will enable us to provide services to students–or potential students–that we otherwise could not have provided (particularly in the area of IDEA).
My considered and strong opinion, however, is that accepting government money of any kind is a definite step on to an extremely slippery slope. Such a step will inevitably result in (1) relaxing some standards/requirements/convictions that we held in order to allow ourselves to accept the “necessary” funding, and/or (2) will result in us getting so comfortable with/dependent upon that funding that if and when the day comes that we must refuse it because the conditions for accepting it have finally gone too far, we will be scrambling to make up for that funding or will suddenly have to make major cuts to services or spending. The usual reality, though, is much like like the frog in boiling water–we would jump out immediately if thrust into boiling water, but when we get in and the water feels fine, we tend to stay put as the temperature is gradually increased until it’s too late and we have boiled to death.
Christian schools should absolutely endeavor to provide services that are as comprehenive and far-reaching as possible in order to serve as many students as God has called them to serve. That will look different for different schools, of course. At the end of the day, though, if God calls a school to do it, He will provide the funds necessary to accomplish it.