Starting a Christian school is a process that usually takes about 6 months to a year. It can be a relatively painless process, especially if there is a collective effort involving fellow parents, community leaders and a church body. There will likely be some hurdles, but you and your team can probably clear them and establish your school with the proper planning.
Form a planning committee. Include fellow parents, church members and community leaders. A planning committee should be formed at least 6 months to a year before you plan to open your school. Make it your goal to find a common vision for the school. This includes drafting a mission statement such as: “To provide students with a strong academic education coupled with biblical principles so they may live their lives according to the principles taught by the Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Create committees within your planning committee. Your planning committee or educational board will operate more efficiently if it is separated into special committees. These may include a fiscal committee, an enrollment committee, a marketing team or a legal team. Each committee should be chaired.
Choose a name. Make this a collective process. Ask for suggestions and have your committee vote to come up with a name that includes elements of the school's affiliation and location, such as “Steubenville Baptist Elementary School.”
Create a strong business plan. This will be extremely important, especially in obtaining financing. If you plan to solicit donations from members of your church, they should see a copy of your business plan. Draft a solid budget, enrollment projections, staffing solutions and a marketing plan.
Choose your grade levels. Start with a single grade, such as kindergarten, with the goal of adding successive grades in coming years. Staying small will allow you to focus on teaching your students. It will also help determine how much capital you need to raise. However, if you have the resources, leadership and calling, you may start with more.
Raise capital. Although you may not need a fortune to start your school, you must have enough money to buy books, pay staff and obtain classroom space. Call on your church leaders, such as pastors and elders, for financial assistance in getting the school off the ground. Ask church members for donations. These may include money, vehicles, furniture, computers--even real estate. Some churches have trust funds left by deceased members for specific church needs. Also, apply for grants. All levels of government typically have money set aside to meet specific educational needs. Grants also are available through the U.S. Department of Education--even for private, faith-based schools. Your church’s national headquarters may also give you money to start your school.
Find a location. Ask your church leaders to use extra space or Sunday school rooms as a temporary home. They might require rent; then again, they might allow you to use the space free if your school is officially affiliated with the church. If your church cannot be used as a site, contact a commercial real estate agent to help you find a building large enough to accommodate your needs.
Incorporate and apply to the IRS for a 501 (c) (3) tax status. File incorporation paperwork with your state's secretary of state office. Contact an attorney to help you with this step. If an attorney is not on your planning committee, recruit one. To avoid paying a significant amount of federal income tax, your school must be registered with the IRS as a nonprofit, educational, tax-exempt organization, or a 501 (c) (3). Becoming an educational nonprofit often involves showing the IRS your business plan and your financial information. Contact a CPA to ensure you do this correctly. It is also wise to have a CPA on your planning committee.
Hire key personnel. Hire or appoint a principal and business manager. These people will help hire teachers and other personnel. Search for candidates from all areas of the country. Search for people who are looking for an opportunity to build something from the ground up.
Get accredited. To be recognized as a legitimate school, your institution must meet specific educational guidelines and be registered with your state’s education department. Accreditation requirements vary from state to state. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Education will direct you to the specific guidelines in your area.
Decide on tuition. You won’t be able to charge what the parents in your area cannot afford. Contact other Christian schools in the area and gather as much information as you can about their tuition tiers. This will give you an idea of what your market is capable of supporting.
Find teachers. Contact Christian colleges and universities that train and certify teachers. Allow their placement representatives and counselors to visit your school. If your budget does not allow you to hire full-time teachers at first, recruit volunteers. Retired Christian teachers often wish to stay busy and are willing to give their time. Work with what you have at first.
Recruit students. Nonprofit organizations often get significant discounts on advertising rates. Many newspapers also offer free classified listings. Advertise within the Christian community first. Run print ads in area church bulletins and newsletters and distribute fliers near your church and school. Buying spots on Christian radio and television will help get your school’s name out to the community. After you’ve reached the people of your faith, branch out to the secular community. Email, fax and personally deliver news releases to news editors regularly. Having a website is also a good way for parents and students to become acquainted with your school.
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Jim Hagerty is a writer and journalist who began writing professionally in 1996. He has had articles published in the "Rock River Times," "Builder's Journal" and various websites. He earned a Bachelor of Science in public relations and journalism from Northern Michigan University in Marquette.