10 things you should know about Koch family-funded private school coming to Wichita State

Wonder about Wonder? You’re not alone.

After a story in the Sunday Wichita Eagle broke the news that a Koch family-funded private school — called Wonder — is opening on Wichita State’s campus this fall, community members raised a number of questions and concerns through social media.

Wednesday, Wichita State attempted to answer those questions through a Q&A page on its website. Based on the information posted there and a lease agreement between Wonder and Wichita State Innovation Alliance obtained through the Kansas Open Records Act, here’s what we know so far:

1 Wonder is a nonprofit funded by Annie and Chase Koch, son of Wichita billionaire Charles Koch and president of Koch Disruptive Technologies. Mrs. Koch and Zach Lahn, a former fundraiser and state director for Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-backed conservative political advocacy group, are the founders of the school.

Charles Koch is notorious for his political and economic network sometimes referred to as the “Kochtopus.” The primary political advocacy arm of that network is Americans for Prosperity, which promotes Charles and his brother David’s political agenda. Mrs. Koch and Lahn said the school is intended to be an “open marketplace of ideas” and “won’t advocate a religious, social or political philosophy.”

Wonder’s business filing as a nonprofit limits its political activities. The school “shall not carry on propaganda or otherwise attempt to influence legislation. The corporation shall not participate in or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office.”

2 For every dollar the Koch family spends renovating its private school on Wichita State’s campus, it gets a dollar shaved off its rent — up to $144,104 a year.

Wonder is leasing the former Printing Services building located on Wichita State’s main campus. Through a “rent credit,” the Koch family will save the full $144,104 its first year, after putting what is estimated to cost $1.1 million into renovations. The credits will cut the rent from $234,104 a year to $90,000.

Under the terms of the agreement, on a month-to-month basis their rent drops from $19,508.67 a month to $7,500 a month.

The former print shop has not been used for printing since 2010 and in recent years has been used “for storage and to temporarily house departments whose space was being renovated.”

3 The reason the lease agreement was signed was “in order to further WSU’s applied learning and translational research goals by providing additional experiential learning opportunities to WSU students and strengthens relationships with other global companies.”

Wonder is not a global company. In its news release, Wichita State said there are “no Koch Industries corporate funds being used” on the school.

“The language is part of a broad preface to the contract and isn’t a term of the contract to be fulfilled by the parties. In this case, the applied learning opportunities goal is most significant,” said Lainie Mazzullo, Wichita State’s assistant director of news and media relations.

With the school still in the planning stage, it is unclear right now how, exactly, WSU students will benefit from Wonder’s presence on campus.

“As we envision it right now, there will be opportunities for students,” said Shirley Lefever, dean of the College of Education.

“We don’t really know a lot. There could be opportunities for students to have a field experience there (at Wonder). We’ve talked about faculty collaborating on the curriculum. So really we just see it as an opportunity to engage in conversations about education and learning,” Lefever said.

The WSU Q&A said there will be opportunities for students and faculty to “observe and participate in how to improve educational outcomes for students.”

4 Wonder will get WSU parking spaces as part of its lease.

“There will be limited parking provided for the school in the vicinity of its building. Most students will be dropped off at the school, so there won’t be a significant need for parking,” the university said.

According to the lease agreement between WSIA and Wonder, the school will get up to 45 yellow parking permits each year or up to 11 red parking permits a year, “subject to availability,” by substituting 4 yellow passes for each red pass.

Any parking permits after that may be purchased by Wonder’s employees from Wichita State “at the typical parking permit rate.”

5 Wichita State “will keep and maintain the exterior” of Wonder. That includes the roof, walls and windows, HVAC systems, parking lot, and entryways.

Wonder will pay utilities and keep the premises in “good repair, good operating condition, and clean, neat and orderly condition.”

Wonder will pay $900 a month for “janitorial services, consumables, and pest control to the premise.”

6 Wichita State said it didn’t announce the plan because: “When innovation partners are making a major investment on campus we (WSU) let them shape how they want to make it public. The founders decided the best vehicle for announcing the school would be through an article in The Wichita Eagle. In retrospect, we recognize our students, faculty and staff would have benefitted from timelier direct communication from the university,” the university statement said.

7 The Printing Services building is not located on Innovation Campus — it will have a “fenced play yard facing Innovation Campus” — but Wichita State said Wonder “meets all the criteria” of other businesses on Innovation Campus.

Businesses on Innovation Campus must “demonstrate interest in innovation; be committed to working with our students and/or faculty in an applied learning and research environment; and be able to provide their own resources, without WSU student tuition funds or other state support,” the statement said.

8 Wichita State acknowledged that the $6,500 to $10,000-a-year private school that is not equipped to handle children with special needs “may not be a viable option for all.” Wonder intends to offer financial aid to “at least 25 percent of the students attending the school, beginning in the second year,” the university statement said.

Wichita State did not respond to The Sunflower’s questions about concealed handguns on campus or whether they would be permitted in the building or whether students, faculty, or staff would be censored in any way because of the presence of elementary-aged children.

9 Wichita State said the founders of Wonder initiated the idea of bringing it to campus last spring, with Mrs. Koch and Lahn “seeking out John Tomblin (vice president of research and technology transfer) in his role as president of the Wichita State Innovation Alliance.”

“They said they wanted to have the school at WSU to be part of the innovation efforts underway here,” the  statement said.

Lefever became involved in discussions in the fall, she said.

10 Wichita State said the initial questions following the news of the private school on campus have resulted in many questions.

“It’s great that Wonder has engendered so much conversation. As a community, we don’t often step back and talk about the underlying values and how education content is delivered. The fact that hundreds of people are talking about this is good. A lot of people are intrigued by it,” Wichita State’s statement said.

Wonder will start with preschool- and elementary-age children. Middle- and high-school programs will be phased in over time. Its model will be based on NuVu at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Acton Academy in Austin.


See the full agreement here: WONDER SUBLEASE