Enrollment Down at Religious Preschool
Confusion over new a state rule regarding religious instruction in schools has caused enrollment at Growing God’s Kingdom preschool in West Fork to decline, according to state Rep. Justin Harris, who owns the preschool.
The state Department of Human Services recently banned private schools from teaching religion during school hours if the school receives state money. That ruling awaits approval by an interim legislative committee, Harris, R-West Fork, said.
Meanwhile, enrollment at his school is down by about 30 students, he said. Last year, they had 110 kids enrolled at Growing God’s Kingdom. This year, they have close to 90.
Some low-income parents apparently are pulling their children out because they are concerned money won’t be available for tuition, he said.
“What we’ve seen is a dip in enrollment because people think we don’t have the (state) funding anymore,” Harris said. “That’s one thing I want to make clear. We’re still open, still functioning, doing what we’ve always done.”
Growing God’s Kingdom relies on Arkansas Better Chance state money to fund schooling for low-income families. This year the school has received $534,000, according to the Department of Human Services.
Some people argue that using public funds at religious schools violates the U.S. Constitution. Steve Sheppard, a University of Arkansas law professor, is among those who believe the separation must be maintained .
“We have the separation of church and state because the framers of the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights understood the stakes of allowing the state to dictate religion,” Sheppard said.
An interim education committee is meeting in Little Rock on August 29 to decide whether to approve the new rule requiring religion to be taught only before or after school hours. After that decision is made and guidelines are in place, Growing God’s Kingdom will decide whether it no longer will allow Bible studies during school hours, Harris said.
Harris, who is seeking reelection in House District 81, faces Democrat Wolf Grulkey in the Nov. 6 general election.