Ciara and Russell Wilson are the latest celebrities to fund a charter school, a move they say extends the couple’s philanthropic commitment to education.
Through their Why Not You Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at improving education access, bolstering children’s health and fighting poverty, Wilson and Ciara will provide $1.75 million to help revamp the Cascade Midway Academy in Des Moines, Wash., just south of Seattle.
The charter high school will open in fall 2021 under a new name, the Why Not You Academy, and welcome a freshman class of 100. According to the Seattle News Tribune, it will operate as a tuition-free public high school, and Wilson and Ciara will not be involved in the school’s day-to-day operations.
In an interview with the Associated Press, the couple said the school would focus on underserved Black and Latinx students, foregrounding academics, personalized student plans, internships and mentorships. They also hope to expand the Why Not You Academy, eventually setting up campuses throughout the country.
“I’m really confident...about the team that we have here and how we’re building things out,” Ciara told the AP. “We’re passionate about everything. We’re all in on this.”
Charter schools have become increasingly polarizing over the years. Their independence from the rules that govern traditional public schools allow them to embrace innovation in curricula, scheduling and administration, such as focusing on restorative justice. But this same independence means they also lack accountability and transparency. Critics point out that charter schools also siphon taxpayer funds away from public schools, many of which have been facing dwindling budgets for decades. Because of this, charter schools actually perpetuate education inequality in indirect ways.
Despite these concerns, a growing list of celebrities, many of them Black, have launched charter schools. Among them are LeBron James, NFL Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders, Magic Johnson, Will Smith, and Sean “Diddy” Combs. Not all of the ventures have been successful: Sanders’ K-12 school, Prime Prep was named the worst academic institution in North Texas before being forced to shutter by the Texas Education Agency in 2014.
Wilson and Ciara told the AP that they aren’t making a political statement with the opening of the charter school, which builds upon the couple’s education-centered philanthropy. Together, the Wilsons have supported the Rainier Scholars program in Seattle, which helps prep low-income students of color for college, and have funded a science and technology-centered girls’ boarding school in Rwanda, the Rwanda Girls Initiative.
“This school is a longtime dream of ours and it was important for us to find a way to combine traditional classroom learning with community and mentorship-based activities, in order to prepare kids for the real world,” Wilson said in a statement. “Why Not You is based on the idea that it can start with one and our hope is that this school will be the first of many.”