Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to expand the voucher system that would pay for a portion of private and religious schools. That could end up benefitting private schools linked to Scientology, which use concepts thought up by founder L. Ron Hubbard.
A HuffPost expose revealed Monday that schools like Clearwater Academy International might seem appealing to parents willing to pay for smaller schools and class sizes.
Garrett Cantrell moved with his family to the area in 2008. He knew that the area had several schools that were Scientology-focused and specifically asked if Clearwater was one of them. A staffer told him "no." Months later, however, he found the answer wasn't accurate.
It's one of many schools and "tutoring centers" in the country that uses a curriculum created by Applied Scholastics based on the ideas from Hubbard. Five of them get funding either through vouchers or tax credits, according to HuffPost. In Clearwater's case, the school got more than $500,000 between 2012 and 2016 thanks to taxpayer-funded scholarships.
Cantrell explained that he was never asked to take part in events that were overtly Scientologist but he learned that many of his classmates were entrenched in the religion. He was ready to leave after a few months and spent the year slacking off. Leaders in the school ultimately asked him to leave. He said he was grateful.
“I don’t feel like I learned anything there other than that basically Scientology was obviously not something that I wanted to do,” Cantrell told The Huffington Post. He's now 25 years old and sounding the alarm.
He explained that if he yawned it wasn't simply a bodily function, at Clearwater it meant he was having trouble understanding the material. Teachers would then probe him to see if he misunderstood something. If a concept was unclear to him, they required he create clay models of an idea that helped him understand it. He also noted that teachers weren't there to teach students, rather they were self-directed and teachers were there as a guide.
Yet, the Florida Department of Education’s directory of schools lists Clearwater and the other schools using the Applied Scholastics curriculum as "non religious."
A spokesperson for the Church of Scientology said that the schools were not a part of its organization. But they added that the church “and its members have proudly supported Applied Scholastics in numerous ways through the years."
Clearwater's website, however, promotes that the teachings are from Hubbard and proudly touts the concepts in Study Technology “developed by Mr. Hubbard when he discovered the primary barriers to a student’s comprehension.”
Cantrell’s claims were verified when the Huffington Post acquired some of the course materials from Applied Scholastics. Yawning, for example, was said to explain a potential reaction to encountering a “misunderstood word.” So, if he yawned, the teacher would force him to look up words in the dictionary. Hubbard's books The Study Technology, "refers to the 'misunderstood word' as one of the three major 'barriers to study,' which make it difficult for students to learn," The Post wrote.
The executive director for Clearwater Academy told HuffPost it works with many students from all sorts of faith traditions.
“We are non-religious and non-political. Our students and faculty are very diverse — Christian, Muslim, Scientologists, and more — Asian, White, Black and from various countries," Jim Zwers said in a statement. "We respect the religious beliefs of everyone in our school and our policy is therefore to never promote religion in our school."
Private schools have little to no oversight, depending on the state. Some states have applied standards to private schools that are akin to public schools. In other states however, they go completely unregulated. Such was the case in Michigan, where the inferior schools are being completely bankrolled with taxpayer dollars and some closed so quickly, students never crossed the threshold.
Huffington Post designed a database of nearly 8,000 schools that participate in state-level programs that are taxpayer funded. They researched what each school was teaching, breaking down the religious institutions and the curriculums for evangelical schools.
Voucher programs provide scholarships for lower income students who want to attend private schools. Public taxpayer dollars are also given to individuals and corporations that start up the schools. These institutes also make money off of private donations, which are generally a tax deduction for the donor.
Cantrell is still bothered by the idea the schools are working off of his tax dollars thanks to "school choice" programs. He's grateful he only had to stay in the school for a short time. Despite everyone being nice and meeting other academic achievers, he said he felt like he wasted a year of his life.
“Look, they have every right to be there, and have their setup like that, but [the school shouldn’t] mislead people like that. They looked at [his grandmother] straight in the face and lied to her and my grandfather. Had they said, ’Yes, [we’re scientologist],′ we would have gone a different route. We wouldn’t have gone there,” he said.