Leave it to United Teachers of Wichita president Steve Wentz to put a frog in the punch bowl of the new, innovative Koch-funded “Wonder” school on the Wichita State campus. The Grinch-like Wentz dismissed the school in an Agnew-worthy burst of alliteration as “a living laboratory of elitism.”
“If you want to live in your gated community, fine, but don’t think that gives you a picture of the real world,” Wentz, a high school history and psychology teacher, told the Wichita Eagle.
Wentz is one of the few naysayers to be heard in the Wichita community. The Wichita Eagle has been surprisingly supportive as has been Wichita State University.
On Thursday, the Eagle reported that the demand for placement in the new school has “blown away” Zach Lahn, co-founder of Wonder, which is scheduled to open for preschool and elementary-age children in September.
Chase and Annie Koch, the son and daughter-in-law of Koch Industries chief Charles Koch, are financing the project. They’re investing about $1.1 million. Lahn, a former fundraiser and state director for the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, has been recruited to run the school.
Annie Koch, 33, a mother of three children under five, is the force behind the school’s creation. “You start to realize, ‘Actually, my kids spend more time at school than they spend with me,’” said Annie, “And so, being able to bring what we see as the best of what’s out there to them . . . I couldn’t be more excited.”
Instead of traditional grade levels and fixed seating, students will be grouped into “multi-age studios.” They advance only upon reaching certain academic and social milestones. This mastery-based approach owes much to Kahn Academy founder Sal Kahn.
The school is not exactly free. Tuition for elementary age students is $10,000 a year and for pre-schoolers about $6,500. The school plans to offer scholarships, but those programs will not be ready for the fall 2018 opening.
WSU, which will be hosting the school on a paid basis, has done an admirable job of dismissing critics. “The fact that there are now hundreds of people talking about how educational content is delivered is pretty exciting,” Lou Heldman, the university’s vice president for strategic communications, told the Eagle. “I think it can only be good for the community that there’s so much thinking going on.”
The response to Koch largesse is much different in Wichita than in New York. David Koch, who has spent most of his adult life in New York, gave $20 million to the Darwin-friendly Museum of Natural History in New York. David also gave $65 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, $100 million to Lincoln Center, and $100 million to the New York Public Library.
Neither David’s social liberalism nor his philanthropy cut him any slack with the city’s social justice warriors who have little tolerance for the Koch brothers’ aggressive libertarianism. In 2011, when David took to the stage to introduce a production of the Nutcracker at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a production he chipped in $2.5 million to sponsor, someone muttered loud enough to be heard, “He’s an evil man.”
Meanwhile vandals were defacing the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center with a rough drawing of David saying, “I bought this theater so I could hide my evil deeds.” And nothing provoked Koch critics quite like David’s $100 million donation to build an ambulatory care center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “David Koch helps fund a facility in a neighborhood already lined with clinics and hospitals,” said the befuddled head of the local union as her colleagues took to the street in protest. “Nurses see this as an assault on our patients.”
Leave it to the union honchos to rain on the parades of ordinary citizens even when, as in Wonder’s case, there are no politics involved.