Over the last six years, as the state of Kentucky shrank public education funding, it spent nearly $18 million to pay for student busing at private, mostly religious schools in two dozen counties, according to state financial records.
In Nelson County, for example, the state last year paid $182,943 for 257 students to be bused to Catholic schools. Nelson County Fiscal Court matched that with $49,388 from its own budget. That money was split between the city and county school districts, to compensate them for carrying private students on their buses, and private Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, which runs five buses on several daily routes.
“It really is pretty critical for us,” said Tom Hamilton, principal of Bethlehem High School, part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville. “Bus transportation is a high-ticket item. This doesn’t pay for all of our costs, but it pays for a lot of it.”
The state’s spending is about to grow. In March, amid lobbying by the Catholic Conference of Kentucky and other groups, the General Assembly voted to boost the private school bus subsidy to $3.5 million annually, up from $2.9 million, a 17 percent increase.
Even though the public disapproves of vouchers by 70 percent, special interests in the GOP keep trying to scuttle public school funding with them.
This week, the 45th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools was released. Although it hit on several hot education topics, such as the Common Core State Standards and Teacher Evaluation, one of the poll’s most notable results was the public’s growing disapproval of private school vouchers.
The PDK/Gallup Poll wording also doesn’t even mention the clear problems surrounding private school vouchers: taxpayer unaccountability, a lack of civil rights protections, and public funding of religious schools.The survey reported the highest level of opposition to private school vouchers in its history: 70 percent of the public opposes private school vouchers. This is even higher than the opposition marked in 2012 (55 percent) and 2011 (65 percent).
Not only is this the highest opposition yet, but it comes at a time when private school vouchers are widely being pushed on the state and federal level. The National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), of which AU is a co-chair, issued a press release saying the poll confirms that “the American people want a well-funded public school system that benefits all, not a patchwork of unaccountable private schools that cater to a few.”
The Friedman Foundation for Education Choice, a proponent of vouchers, was quick to call the PDK/Gallup Poll an outlier, saying the wording of the private school voucher question caused the public to lean towards opposition. But, the poll question was neutral, asking, “Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?” Furthermore, the PDK/Gallup wording has remained identical for the past three years, so the trend data is accurate and not due to differences in wording.
The PDK/Gallup Poll wording also doesn’t even mention the clear problems surrounding private school vouchers: taxpayer unaccountability, a lack of civil rights protections, and public funding of religious schools.
After quite a bit of bad news on school vouchers on the state level of late, we can finally report a positive development thanks to a U.S. Senate Committee: A federal voucher ploy has been defeated!
Yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee was considering amendments to S. 1094, the “Strengthening America’s Schools Act,” which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C) introduced an amendment that would have allowed states to turn their Title I funds into giant voucher programs. It would have permitted any child whose income threshold qualifies his or her public school to receive Title I funds to take the allotment and use it toward tuition at religious and other private schools.
In 2009-2010, 56,000 public schools received Title I funds on behalf of 21 million children, according to the U.S. Department of Education. It is not known exactly how much taxpayer money the Paul/Scott amendment would have cost, but the entire program received over $14 billion in fiscal 2012, according to the Washington, D.C.-based New America Foundation.
Passage of this amendment, which was backed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the ranking HELP Committee Republican, could have dealt a serious blow to public education given the amount of money and students involved.
Billions of public dollars could have been diverted to religious schools that are allowed to indoctrinate and discriminate, all while being free of the standards to which public schools are accountable.
Fortunately HELP Committee Chair Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) saw through the voucher scheme, as did all the other Democrats on the committee. Two Republicans, Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), also voted against the ploy, which failed 8-14.
Unfortunately this is probably not the end for federal voucher proposals, given that Alexander told The New York Times last week that he and Paul would introduce a similar amendment to the one that failed once S. 1094 comes up for a Senate floor vote.
Several church-state separation issues are coming up in the states. Here are a few highlighted bills that AU is working on:
Oklahoma On Tuesday the Oklahoma legislature held a hearing on HB 1918, a bill that provides a way for employers to side-step the federal mandate that the health insurance they provide to their employees cover contraceptives. This underhanded bill proposes state tax deductions for employers that receive federal tax penalties for refusing to provide birth control for employees. It passed the Appropriations and Budget Committee, and we’ll be watching it as it progresses.
Oklahoma: The House Judiciary Committee passed anti-Sharia bill, HB 1060, last Wednesday. The bill claims to prohibit the application of foreign law in Oklahoma, but Oklahoma Courts can already refuse to apply foreign law if it conflicts with U.S. and Oklahoma law. Instead, this bill targets the Muslim community, perpetuating the false claim that Sharia Law is being implemented in the United States. This bill only perpetuates anti-Muslim sentiment and should not pass.
Vouchers and Tuition Tax Credits
Vouchers and tuition tax credits - backdoor vouchers - funnel taxpayer money away from public schools and fund primarily religious schools, violating our country’s commitment to the separation of church and state. Vouchers do not work: multiple studies of the District of Columbia, Milwaukee, and Cleveland school voucher programs, students offered vouchers do not perform better in reading and math than students in public schools. Not only have these voucher programs been proven to be ineffective, they also often lack accountability and civil rights protections. Nonetheless, we are seeing several attempts to implement vouchers in the states.
Alaska: The Alaska House Education Committee held a hearing on Friday on HJR 1, which would repeal provisions of the Alaska Constitution that prohibit the state from spending taxpayer money for religious school tuition. AU submitted testimony opposing the resolution.
Nebraska: Richard Spellman, Omaha Chapter President, submitted testimony on behalf of AU opposing LB 14, a tuition tax credit bill.
New Jersey: Governor Christie made his Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Address on Tuesday, revealing a plan to put $2 million towards a pilot voucher program for children to attend private and religious schools. If you live in New Jersey, tell your legislators to oppose vouchers!
Tennessee: Last week The Tennessee Senate Education Committee placed SB 196, a voucher bill, on its agenda. AU submitted testimony opposing the bill. Only one witness was heard at the hearing, however, and the bill will be heard again in committee this Wednesday. The House Education Committee will hold a hearing on the House version of the bill tomorrow.
A Colorado appeals court ruled 2-1 today that a voucher plan adopted by the Douglas County School District does not violate the Colorado Constitution by diverting taxpayer money to pay students’ tuition at religious and other private schools.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the national ACLU criticized the ruling.
“This misguided decision fails to enforce the Colorado Constitution’s strict prohibitions against public funding of religious education,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director for Americans United. “It’s clear that this voucher plan will funnel taxpayer money primarily into the coffers of religious schools.”
The organizations challenged the program on behalf of a group of parents, clergy and other taxpayers. A lower court had previously struck down the plan.
“While families have the right to decide where their children should attend school, the state cannot finance religious education at private institutions,” said Heather L. Weaver, staff attorney for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Public education funds should be used to help improve our public schools, not to promote religion in violation of the state constitution.”
AU and the ACLU plan to file an appeal before the Colorado Supreme Court.
“The Colorado Court of Appeals got it wrong today when it found that Douglas County’s scheme to underwrite the religious education of children was constitutional,” says Mark Silverstein, Legal Director for the ACLU of Colorado. “We hope and expect that the Colorado Supreme Court will ultimately decide this case and affirm the district court’s ruling that diverting taxpayer money to pay students’ tuition at primarily religious, private schools is a clear violation of the religious liberty provisions of the Colorado Constitution.”
“The decision fundamentally misinterprets prior Colorado Supreme Court cases interpreting the religion clauses of the Colorado Constitution,” said attorney Matthew J. Douglas of the Denver office of the international law firm Arnold & Porter LLP, who argued the appeal and is serving as cooperating counsel for the ACLU and Americans United. “Ultimately these issues should be decided by the Colorado Supreme Court.”
The so-called “Choice Scholarship Pilot Program” offered tuition vouchers worth $4,575 to 500 students to spend at religious and other private schools. For the purposes of obtaining state per-pupil educational funds, Douglas County still counted these children as “public school students” attending an imaginary school that exists only on paper.
In reality, the voucher money was spent at district-approved “Private School Partners.” As of the filing of the lawsuit, 18 of the 23 approved Private School Partners are religious.
Watch for a major fight in Congress over taxpayer subsidies for religious and other private schools.
In his Republican response to the State of the Union this week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) touted “school choice,” a euphemism for vouchers.
“We need to give all parents, especially the parents of children with special needs, the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice,” Rubio said.
The next day, the Florida senator rolled out his “Educational Opportunities Act,” a neo-voucher bill that lets corporations and individuals donate money to “scholarship granting organizations” that pay for tuition at private schools. The donors get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit - for corporations up to $100,000 and for individuals up to $4,500 - and private schools, most of them religious, get a windfall of new money.
Call it a Rubio Goldberg Machine that takes tax dollars, spins them around and puts them into the collection plates of various religious schools that are then free to use the cash to indoctrinate and discriminate.
It’s more than a little ironic that Rubio, who spent a lot of time in his speech talking about the federal debt problem, told The Miami Herald that he doesn’t know how much his scheme will cost.
The newspaper said Rubio’s private school slush fund reflects his close ties with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Bush has relentlessly pushed private school subsidies in the Sunshine State for years, and the Herald said some of his former associates helped Rubio concoct his plan.
The senator’s neo-voucher campaign is likely to have a companion effort in the U.S. House of Representatives. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has announced plans to put forward a “school choice” scheme, and it’s certain to have the enthusiastic backing of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Boehner is positively obsessed with taxpayer subsidies for religious and other private schools. He used all his political clout - and backroom political wheeling and dealing - to keep in place a federally funded voucher program in the District of Columbia that underwrites tuition at Roman Catholic, fundamentalist Protestant and Muslim schools.
To the conservative climate denialists dotting the landscape this is just more proof that scientists are working together with those communist teacher’s unions in a vast green conspiracy to indoctrinate our children. For the thinly veiled fundamentalist zealots of the right, this is just another reason to home school and scream for vouchers for their religious schools.*
NCSE’s Minda Berbeco contributed “Getting the Science Right: Teaching Climate Change in the Classroom” to California Classroom Science, a publication of the California Science Teachers Association. “As the newest Programs and Policy Director here at the National Center for Science Education, I am constantly asked where educators can find good lesson plans and classroom activities to teach about climate change,” she writes, citing three resources in particular — the Climate Literacy & Energy Awareness Network, the Alliance for Climate Education, and the ECO2School in Sonoma County, California — as models of good scientific and pedagogical practice.
Berbeco concludes, “Students will need to have a good understanding of the science of climate change in order to make educated and thoughtful policy decisions about the consequences of climate change in the future. Unfortunately, many teachers avoid the subject, because they feel poorly prepared to address the many questions that can arise or are concerned about bringing controversy into their classroom. In addition, the resources are not yet in place at the state level to encourage them to present the science accurately and effectively. With lessons and programs such as the ones described here, though, it is becoming easier for teachers to integrate climate change into their science teaching.”
[ * Of course the average person knows that The Green Dragon Conspiracy is really just a bad Kung Fu movie featuring “boomerang fan man”.]
In another conservative experiment with tax dollars there are vouchers going to some highly questionable religious schools, and a lot of Catholic Schools. 8 years later it’s time for the Feds to stop bailing out religious schools and instead invest more in public schools.
When Congress created the nation’s only federally funded school voucher program, advocates said the plan would improve the education of some of the poorest urban youths.
Eight years later, it seems clear that things haven’t gone as planned.
A lengthy investigation of the Washington, D.C., voucher program by The Washington Post showed that many parents use the voucher money to send their children to schools that are unaccredited and unaccountable.
In addition, the program has become a type of bailout for Catholic schools. More than half of 1,584 students who receive vouchers use them to attend Catholic institutions.
Some of the schools examined, which include a K-12 school operating out of a storefront, a Nation of Islam school based in a converted house, and a school built on the teachings of an obscure Bulgarian psychotherapist, could not survive without federal funds, The Post said. In some cases, more than 90 percent of a school’s students pay with federal vouchers.
Congress allocated $20 million for the D.C. voucher program for this year, The Post reported, and since 2004 the federal government has set aside $133 million for the program. Students who meet the household income requirements can receive about $8,000 per year for elementary school and around $12,000 per year for high school.
And yet, the schools are not accountable to the taxpayers who are forced to fund them. No government official has say over the curriculum, academic quality or management of the schools.
In fact, the only requirements for D.C. schools that accept voucher students are that the institutions must have a certificate of occupancy and employ teachers who are college graduates. One requirement that is glaringly absent from that list is accreditation. D.C. private schools aren’t required to be accredited in order to enroll voucher students, and The Post found that at least eight of the 52 schools that accept vouchers lack accreditation.
I sometimes wonder if Louisiana is on some sort of crusade to be declared the silliest state in America.
We’ve written before on this blog about Louisiana’s new voucher program that will direct taxpayer funds to private religious schools of dubious worth, including one school that uses DVDs to educate children and has great plans to expand “on faith.”
Now comes word that another school taking part in the program, Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, uses a “science” book that contains some unusual ideas - one of them the assertion that dinosaurs might still be roaming our planet.
Why would a fundamentalist school want kids to think dinosaurs might still be alive? They apparently believe this would somehow cast doubt on evolution, a well-established principle that fundamentalists have been at war with since at least 1925.
The book in question, Biology 1099 published by Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) in Madison, Tenn., contains the following passage: “Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”
Fewer than 40 children attend Eternity Christian Academy. Thanks to Gov. Bobby Jindal and compliant Louisiana legislators, 135 students may be enrolled there this fall. Many religious schools in the state have ambitious plans to expand in the wake of the taxpayer-funded windfall.
That number may sound small, but the fact is we have no way of knowing how many other tax-supported academies in Louisiana use ACE’s materials. The publisher is popular among Christian fundamentalist educators and home-schoolers. This fall, lots of other Louisiana youngsters might be learning that the Loch Ness Monster debunks evolution.
It’s easy to poke fun at something like this, and I could crack jokes about the school taking a field trip to Roswell, N.M., to check out the UFO crash site or perhaps hosting a seminar on how Bigfoot fits into all of this. But at the end of the day, it’s not really very funny for the children funneled into these schools who are getting a substandard education. My guess is that not many of them are going to excel in science and explore that as a career at a top-flight university.
Nor is it funny for Louisiana taxpayers who are stuck picking up the tab for this nonsense and who must stand by and watch as their state’s reputation sinks lower and lower.
Students attending national religious schools are to begin studying a new subject next year - sex education, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.
The new course, titled “Home, education and family,” will deal with contraception, premarital relationships, modesty and the status of women. It is also to deal with “family purity,” or the Jewish law that addresses married couples’ conduct during menstruation.
The subject, which has gone largely unaddressed in the national religious education system, has received the rabbinical seal of approval. It is to be taught in system’s coed high schools, as well as the ulpana and yeshiva high schools.
The course material is primarily based on a book penned by Rabbi Eli Sheinfeld of the Chorev Yeshiva, titled “Nature, Heart and Mankind,” which is considered to be the undisputed authority on religious sex education.
This will probably cause an uproar in some circles, but I think this is actually a very good idea that is long overdue.