Soaring Education in the News - Cato Institute Friday Feature

Dr. Jack Preus
Dr. Jack Preus
February 17, 2023
min read
Soaring in the News

When it comes to education today, there are, increasingly, a wide variety of options available. The Friday Feature is evidence of this each week. But it’s pretty rare to find one organization that provides numerous options on its own. Open Sky Education does just that—with private Christian schools, charter schools, and a newer microschool network.

HOPE Christian Schools in Milwaukee, which opened in 2002, marked the modest beginning of what is now Open Sky Education. HOPE, which stands for Hold Onto the Promises Everywhere, was founded by local leaders who wanted more options to be available for recipients of Milwaukee’s school voucher program. The foundation of a HOPE education is excellent academics, character formation, and faith formation. There are now six locations in Milwaukee and one in Racine, which has its own school voucher.

Thanks to the voucher programs, more than 3,000 students have had the opportunity to attend a HOPE Christian School. But school leaders realized they could help even more students by opening charter schools. The first EAGLE College Preparatory School opened in Phoenix, Arizona in 2008. There are now three K‑8 campuses in Arizona and one that serves K‑6. Like HOPE, the EAGLE name is intentional—it stands for Expecting Academic Greatness with a Loving Emphasis, which aligns with the schools’ goal of “academic excellence in a safe, supportive and loving learning environment.”

While the charter schools are secular, they share HOPE Christian Schools’ focus on character formation and strong academics. For parents who are seeking faith formation, before‐ and after‐​school care is available through Compass Educational Programs. HOPE, EAGLE, and Compass all operated under the Educational Enterprises Inc. (EEI) umbrella. In 2016, EEI rebranded as Open Sky Education to better reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of the organization and the vast opportunities available through their multi‐​pronged approach.

In December 2020, Open Sky launched a new division, Soaring Education Services, to help creative models of Christian education get off the ground. Jack Preus, national director for the new division, says microschooling will be the primary thrust. “We see a lot of potential in small cottage schools and helping local school founders start transformative solutions in their communities,” he says. With the expansion of school choice around the country, Jack sees microschools as a way to increase the supply of private educational options. “Microschools can more easily scale since they don’t need big capital in advance,” he notes.

The Soaring Education Services microschools will look different than HOPE schools. According to Preus, the model takes the best of homeschooling and traditional schools to create a highly personalized education that is led by learning guides. The microschools will use a mastery/​competency‐​based approach, and students will be giving a lot of room to pursue their own passions.

Preus also sees this as an entrepreneurial business opportunity where Soaring Education Services shares the risks as a school grows. Sharing the risk on the front end—creating a floor so entrepreneurs, maybe even homeschooling parents, aren’t putting their financial futures at stake—will help incentivize new ventures. Open Sky won’t be running the microschools it helps launch, so local communities will have ultimate flexibility in how they structure things.

“We’re trying to activate a network of site leaders, learning guides, and coaches,” said Preus.

Open Sky was recently a semifinalist for the Yass Prize, which will help them grow the Soaring Education Services division. The goal is to create a national Christian microschool network to give students from all income levels access to these unique learning opportunities. The microschools are designed to be fully funded by education savings accounts where available.

It seems like the sky’s the limit when it comes to educational opportunities today. Open Sky Education embraces that notion by offering diverse options to meet the needs of diverse families.