When the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy opened four years ago in suburban Minneapolis, the school was a bold experiment and its survival was in question. There was the scramble to attract students that any charter school faces, but Tarek ibn Ziyad had the additional worry of a constitutional challenge, given the school’s sponsorship by a nonprofit called Islamic Relief and the curriculum’s emphasis on Muslim culture and the Arabic language.
The school has not only survived but thrived, and there are plans for local expansion. Perhaps the surest sign that the experiment worked came last week, when a new charter school opened up thousands of miles away in Hollywood, Fla.–founded by Jewish parents, Ben Gamla Charter School has kosher food in the cafeteria and Hebrew posters in the classrooms. In the planning of the Florida school, Tarek ibn Ziyad’s experience was taken into account.
The success of Tarek ibn Ziyad’s model, and its adoption outside of Minnesota, heralds a potentially explosive new trend in America’s charter schools: publicly funded schools tied to a particular religion. The founders of Ben Gamla are already promising more branches in other states, and parents from other religions are sure to venture into similar territory, pushing the constitutional limits even further. As Peter Deutsch, the Orthodox Jewish congressman who started Ben Gamla, has said, it “could be a huge paradigm shift in education in America