The Christian school movement began in earnest in the United States in the late 1960s. Prior to that time Christian schools existed, primarily as educational ministries of particular churches or denominations. But starting around 50 years ago, the number of Christian schools blossomed—partly as a response to the secularization of the culture, and of many public school curricula.
I attended (for a time) a Christian school in the early 1970s: Redeemer Lutheran Day School in Northeast Philadelphia. (A quick note that for a time much later on, Redeemer Lutheran Day School was a member of the Children’s Jubilee Fund network.) My parents made the decision to send me to Christian School (and to pay the then-steep annual tuition of $600!) because they wanted me to learn in an environment that was friendly to the Gospel.
Going to Christian school, they reasoned, was one way to nurture my young faith. And they were right! It was in my classroom at Redeemer Lutheran Day School in 1974 that I first remember comprehending that I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
That students would have a standing opportunity to come to faith (or to nurture a faith already present) is certainly a compelling reason to choose Christian school education over public. But it isn’t the only one.
Children’s Jubilee Fund was established in 1997 because Dr. Jim Petty and other visionaries wanted to provide a safe, stable environment for city-based students to receive an education. Around the time of Jubilee’s establishment, Philadelphia public schools suddenly faced new competition: charter schools. These publicly-funded, yet privately-run schools receive a share of taxpayer dollars dedicated to the education of all students in the district. This meant that Philadelphia public schools were effectively forced to cut spending, while still bearing the responsibility of educating Philadelphia students.
Additionally, state funding as a percentage of total public education spending in Pennsylvania declined by over one-third from 1975 through 2001. Consequently, the relative quality of education in some Philadelphia public schools began to decline. And history tells us that the schools that faced the most significant declines in performance tended to be in less-affluent, majority Black neighborhoods. Some of Philadelphia’s most at-risk students were being disadvantaged even further because their neighborhood schools were being starved of badly-needed resources.
Christian schools aren’t necessarily wealthier than their secular counterparts, but they tend to be better resourced in terms of additional staff care for students and their families. Christian school teachers and staffs often take additional time to help students work through learning challenges and personal barriers. Christian school staff is also generally able to provide spiritual comfort and support to students when learning proves a challenge. Instead of checking out and giving up, students are instead encouraged to persevere, and to turn to the Lord for hope and strength.
But there is more to the effective education paradigm than budgets, standardized test scores, and graduation rates. Social disruptions like crime, intimidation, bullying, and drug use frequently surface in schools and lead to some scholars feeling threatened or distracted. According to US Department of Justice statistics, violent and nonviolent incidents in US schools peaked in the mid-1990s. Though rates of nonviolent victimization have fallen dramatically since then, the incidence of violent victimization (threats of violence, assault, sexual assault) have fallen more moderately and still remain unacceptably high.
The incidence of violent acts (or threats of such acts) in schools has a direct correlation to decreased student attendance, lower student performance, and social anxiety among students. Christian schools attempt to avoid these consequences by providing a safe environment for all students to learn. Most Christian schools have lower student-staff ratios than their public counterparts and a commitment to a biblical code of conduct among students. As a result, the situations and underlying relational problems among students that often manifest in violent acts or threats are minimized. When they do occur, they’re addressed promptly, with the aim of addressing not only the behavior, but the underlying circumstantial and heart issues that led to the behavior in the first place. Christian schools generally exercise Christian discipleship all the time—which minimizes the need for formal discipline later on.
The schools in the Jubilee network represent an alternative to public and secular private institutions. Each of our network schools helps individual students achieve to their own particular academic and social potential. But our schools’ highest and most sacred priority is shaping the hearts and minds of their students to help them know Jesus Christ, and to reflect his character to the world around them.
Tim Geiger (M.Div.) is Executive Director of Children's Jubilee Fund. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Tim has lived in or around the city most of his life. His undergraduate studies done at the Community College of Philadelphia, Tim went on to earn a Master of Divinity Degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. Prior to serving at Children's Jubilee Fund, Tim worked for the Internal Revenue Service, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and Harvest USA, where he also served as Executive Director and then President from 2012-2019. Tim lives with his wife and daughter just outside of Philadelphia.
Children's Jubilee Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization established in 1997 to provide tuition grants to Christian schools in the Philadelphia metro area that serve lower-income students. These grants are then awarded by the schools as scholarships to students who meet income and residency guidelines. Each year, Jubilee provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants that, in turn, help hundreds of students in Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, and Camden Counties achieve their God-given academic and personal potential. Children's Jubilee Fund is an entirely donor-supported organization.