Archives for category: Religion

The Sun-Sentinel published an editorial calling on Florida’s courts to review the state’s rapidly growing voucher program, which now enrolls 69,000 students. Despite the fact that the state constitution bans spending public funds on religious schools, either “directly or indirectly,” most of the state’s voucher students attend religious schools. In 2012, the voters of Florida defeated a constitutional amendment that would have deleted the language banning the funding of religious schools. The vote was not close: the proposal failed by a margin of 58-42.

 

The voucher program started in 2002-03 with a limit of $50 million, targeting poor students. This year, the limit on the voucher program is $358 million. With a 25% increase allowed every year, the program may expend $904 million by 2018-19. It is no longer limited to poor students, but is available to families near the state’s median income of $62,000 for a family of four.

 

So how in the world is it legal or constitutional to pay for students to attend religious schools in a state explicitly prohibits expending public money for religious schools?

 

The editorial says:

 

The lawsuit rests on two points. The Florida Constitution bans the spending of public money “directly or indirectly” on religious schools. Diversion of corporate taxes owed to the state through a nonprofit called Step Up for Students and given to parents as vouchers, the plaintiffs argue, does not get around the constitutional ban.

 

Also, the Constitution requires that the state provide a “uniform” system of public schools. Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall calls the voucher program a “parallel” system.” Voucher schools don’t have to give the FCAT or any of the other punitive tests that have so angered parents across the state. Voucher schools must give only a national achievement test.

 

John Kirtley, chairman of “Step Up for Students,” which is authorized to administer the voucher program, actively lobbies for voucher expansion (Step Up for Students receives many millions from the legislature for its role). And its leaders in turn give money to legislators to protect and expand the program.

 

The Sun-Sentinel writes:

 

Kirtley and his wife gave roughly $524,000 in the last election cycle, almost all of it to Republicans. Kirtley also is chairman of the Florida Federation for Children, which successfully targeted voucher critics with roughly $1.3 million in campaign contributions.

 

Voucher supporters portray critics as hostile to school choice for minorities. Whatever compelling anecdotes supporters use, however, there is no compelling evidence the program is succeeding. Example: If minorities are benefiting, why do black students score 20 points lower than white students on those tests?

 

No state has a bigger voucher system. Last year, Florida spent $286 million on just 2.7 percent of all students. Iowa spent $13.5 million on 2.6 percent of its students.

 

Florida is on the way to spending $1 billion on a program with questionable accountability that could be the start of an attempt to privatize public education.

 

Legal review of the voucher program is long overdue.

Containing his discussion of the Founders’ rationale for separating church and state, Frank Brealin writes:

“There was a second reason why the Founders feared that bringing religion into politics would have a divisive effect on our young nation — the rise of political and religious opportunists, who would inflame political issues to further themselves. Religion would become both a theatrical performance and a political tool as charlatans hypocritically showboated their piety to manipulate the crowd for political gain.

“Religious hypocrites would disguise their lack of convictions by putting their finger in their mouth, holding it high in the air to determine which way the political wind was blowing, and telling their audience what it wanted to hear. These individuals well understood the art of inciting “enthusiasm” or hysteria toward some plan of action and labeling it “the Will of God.”

“The Founders would have blanched at a government official returning to constituents and pandering to their religious prejudices to gain a following or court popularity. Not that an official couldn’t take part in a religious service, but only as a private citizen and not as a member of government, lest people think that he were lending the power and prestige of his office to their church or religion….

“As experienced men of the world, the Founding Fathers also knew how some politicians or government agencies might use religion on an impressionable audience to seek power, votes, or advancement. Some of the Founders were also highly educated, even erudite, men, especially Thomas Jefferson, whose library contained a Who’s Who of great authors, one of whom was the French playwright Moliere, and one of whose plays was Tartuffe, the incarnation of religious hypocrisy.

“It is both an uproarious romp into the icy regions of a terrible inner emptiness devoid of conviction, as well as a manual for observing the bobbings and weavings of unctuous sanctimony raised to high art.

“In that great patrician school of Parisian sophistication, it was thought that the only way to effect moral reform was not by sermons, but by being laughed at, since few can survive the acid of ridicule. Many don’t mind being thought a scoundrel, but no one a fool! Castigat ridendo mores (“Comedy corrects manners”) was the essence of Moliere’s art that skewered human folly in its many guises.”

Frank Breslin, retired teacher of history and languages, explains here why the Founders of our nation insisted on separation of church and state.

He begins:

“We have a long tradition in America of the Separation of Church and State that prohibits government’s promotion of religion, on the one hand, and interference with its free exercise, on the other. In their refusal to establish a state church or to favor one religion over another, the Founding Fathers did not think that religion was bad, but that there was something amiss in human nature, a certain tendency, a will to power, a lust for domination, that always bore watching.

“It was a virus that lay dormant until its host came to power, whereupon that person or group of persons became suddenly rabid with a mania that sought to punish or persecute everyone not of their fold or persuasion. Paradoxically, the guise under which this malady manifested itself, as the history of Europe made only too plain, was that of religion.

“The Founders thought that religion, something good in itself, could be used for good or bad ends, and, unless preventive measures were taken, it could induce in the susceptible a form of madness so malignant and destructive as to destroy the very essence of religion itself. By persecuting whoever refused to accept their religion or whose lives were deemed as insufficiently righteous, those now in power imposed a religious tyranny so suffocating in its totalitarian grip, scope, and detail that one immediately thinks of barbed wire and concentration camps.

“”Nothing was ever made straight with the crooked timber of humanity,” was Immanuel Kant’s take on such would-be utopians in their spiritual Gulags. Even something as pure and noble as religious feeling, given the weak human vessels in which it was housed, could become tragically twisted, bringing into the world unspeakable horrors.”

A Satanist group asked permission from the Orange County school board in Florida to distribute coloring books in the public schools. The cartoon books would show children performing Satanic rituals and drawing pentagrams. Up until now, the school board had allowed Christian groups to distribute Bibles in school and gave atheists to distribute their materials. Now the Orange County school board may ban the distribution of any religious materials in the schools. This seemed to be a settled principle in our schools since school prayer was banned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962. But with the recent resurgence of vouchers, most of which are used in religious schools, the question of separation of church and state has become relevant again.

Lindsay Wagner writes in NC Policy Watch that 90% of the students using the state’s new vouchers are attending religious schools. The institution receiving the largest number of vouchers is the Greensboro Islamic Academy.

The vouchers are given the euphemism “opportunity scholarships,” in an effort to disguise the fact that they are vouchers, which voters never approved.

North Carolina legislators are proving that our Founders were far wiser than legislators today. The Founders wanted no establishment of religion, and they did not foresee the subsidy of religious schools by the state. It was Thomas Jefferson who wrote about separation of church and state in 1802, aware of centuries of religious strife in Europe. For years, the U.S. Supreme Court tried to maintain such a wall, allowing some subsidy for religious schools to perform state-required activities, subsidizing textbooks and testing, even transportation, but not tuition in religious schools.

Wagner writes:

“Religious private schools account for 90 percent of those receiving the state’s new taxpayer-funded school vouchers—a disproportionately high amount given that only 66.4 percent of the state’s 715 private schools are religious institutions.

“According to data released by the N.C. State Educational Assistance Authority, 98 out of the 109 private schools that have received vouchers (formally known as Opportunity Scholarships) from the state so far are religious institutions. Ninety-four of those schools identify as Christian, and four other schools identify as Islamic. To date, the state has disbursed just over $1 million to the religious schools.

“The largest recipient of school voucher dollars thus far is Greensboro Islamic Academy. The school has received more than $90,000 from taxpayers while information has surfaced indicating that the school is in financial trouble and has inflated its tuition rates to reap as many publicly-funded vouchers as possible to stay afloat.

“The Opportunity Scholarship Program, which lawmakers enacted last year, siphons approximately $10.8 million dollars out of the public school system to allow students to attend private and religious schools instead. Each voucher is worth a maximum of $4,200 per student, per year.

“Proponents of the program say the voucher program is a way to give low-income students better choices when it comes to their education; critics say it siphons badly needed funds away from public education and funnels them into unaccountable, religious private schools that are not obligated to hold themselves to high quality teaching standards.

“In August, a Superior Court judge found that the program violates the state’s constitutional mandate to use public funds only for public schools – but thanks to a Court of Appeals ruling last month, the state must disburse school vouchers that have already been awarded while the case winds its way through the state appellate courts.”

- See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2014/10/09/ninety-percent-of-private-schools-receiving-taxpayer-funded-vouchers-are-religious-institutions/#sthash.N9RY1dr4.dpuf

Lindsay Wagner of NC Policy Watch reports that the school that received the largest number of vouchers in North Carolina—the Greensboro Islamic Academy–is in financial trouble.

She writes:

A private religious school receiving by far the largest payout from the state’s new school voucher program was in financial trouble during the last school year, pleading for help from the public online to fund its $150,000 shortfall so the school could complete the 2013-14 school year.

“The Greensboro Islamic Academy is suffering from a scarcity of funds,” said Eesaa Wood, a leader at the school’s parent organization, the Islamic Center of Greensboro, in a YouTube video posted online last January. The school has run a deficit of $150,000 every year, according to the fundraising pitch.

“For over a decade, the Muslim community of Greensboro has paid for this shortfall,” said Wood. “For that we are grateful to Allah…but we can no longer rely exclusively on this system.”

The school is the biggest recipient of all those participating in the state’s new Opportunity Scholarship Program, having already received 43 school vouchers totaling more than $90,000 dollars in public funds.

But as taxpayer money flows into Greensboro Islamic Academy’s coffers, questions arise: will the school be able to sustain itself going forward given the financial difficulties it faces? And if not, what happens to funds that taxpayers have already spent on private, religious education?

Lawmakers enacted a school voucher program last year that pulls approximately $10.8 million dollars away from the public school system to allow students to attend private and religious schools instead.

Proponents of the program say the voucher program is a way to give students better choices when it comes to their education; critics say it siphons badly needed funds away from public education and funnels them into unaccountable, religious private schools that are not obligated to hold themselves to high quality teaching standards.

The state received 170 applications earlier this year from students wishing to attend Greensboro Islamic Academy (GIA) this fall with a school voucher – by far the most popular school chosen among voucher applicants and a very large number considering that the school only accommodated 130 students the previous year.

Since then, a high-profile court battle ensued, resulting in a Superior Court judge finding that the program violates the state’s constitutional mandate to use public funds only for public schools – but thanks to a Court of Appeals ruling last month, the state must disburse school vouchers that have already been awarded while the case winds its way through the state appellate courts.

In September, the N.C. State Educational Assistance Authority awarded 43 vouchers to students attending Greensboro Islamic Academy, totaling more than $90,000 tax dollars– nearly 8 percent of the $1 million+ in school vouchers that were disbursed to 109 private schools so far across the state. The next largest recipient of school voucher funds was Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, which received 26 vouchers totaling $54,600, followed by Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville, which received 18 vouchers totaling $37,800.

More voucher funds will be disbursed in the coming weeks, although it’s not clear how much more money, if any, GIA will receive.

According to its fundraising video, Greensboro Islamic Academy is the only full-time Pre-K through 8th grade Islamic private school in the Triad area – and it has struggled with financial obstacles since its inception in 2003.

“Because GIA never turns down any student because of financial need, this has resulted in a $150,000 deficit ever year,” said Islamic Center of Greensboro leader Eesaa Wood in his fundraising plea.

A link on the school’s YouTube fundraising video brings the viewer to a fundraising page that says the school raised only $374 of its $150k goal. Numerous calls and emails to school officials seeking more information about the financial status of Greensboro Islamic Academy, as well as calls to the Islamic Center of Greensboro, the parent organization of GIA, have gone unanswered. Efforts to reach out to the video’s narrator, Eesaa Wood, have also been unsuccessful.

Reached by telephone, GIA school board president Dr. Hatim Mahmoud, a physician practicing in Danville, VA, said he wouldn’t talk about the school with N.C. Policy Watch, despite the fact it now receives taxpayer dollars.

“We don’t talk to reporters. We don’t wanna talk to nobody. Goodbye,” said Mahmoud.

NC Policy Watch is a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.
© 2014 NC Policy Watch | 224 S. Dawson Street, Raleigh, NC 27601

I admire Catholic schools. I like the moral and ethical basis of their teachings, rooted in faith.

I admire our nation’s public schools, which enroll nearly 90% of our children. They teach not only academic skills but citizenship and tolerance, the arts of living with those who are different from oneself.

I believe in the separation of church and state. Those who seek a religious education should pay for it. Religious schools should be funded by philanthropists like Gates and Walton, not taxpayers.

Charter schools are killing off Catholic schools by competing with them but requiring no tuition. This is not fair. Charters compete by pretending that. “No excuses” makes them like Carholic schools. Wrong. Catholic schools succeed because they are faith-based.

The North Carolina Policy Watch reports on the latest turn in the battle over vouchers, which were declared unconstitutional in August by a Supreme Court judge.

“The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled today that the 1,878 students who have already been granted school vouchers can now use those taxpayer dollars at private schools while the fate of the program is decided.

“Students enrolled at private schools this fall expecting to have the vouchers, worth $4,200 annually, in hand – but an August ruling by Superior Court Judge Robert H. Hobgood found the school voucher law to be unconstitutional, halting a program that, as Judge Hobgood said, “appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified.

“As a result, voucher recipients either returned to public schools or paid the full cost of attendance at private schools. Some private schools also indicated they would temporarily subsidize voucher students with the hope that the final court ruling would turn out in their favor.

“While the Court of Appeals’ ruling obligates the state to disburse taxpayer funds to the private schools of those students who were awarded vouchers no later than August 21, 2014, it also blocks the state from awarding any additional vouchers until the final merits of the case are decided.

“State lawmakers passed a 2013 budget that tagged $10 million to be used for the school vouchers, or “Opportunity Scholarships,” beginning this fall. The vouchers funnel taxpayer funds to largely unaccountable private schools–70 percent of which are affiliated with religious institutions…..”

Judge Robert Hobgood, who ruled against vouchers in August, said at that time:

““The General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.”

This farce, which transfers public money from public schools to mostly religious schools, has nothing to do with education reform, and everything to do with extremist ideology and the ALEC agenda. It is a betrayal of the state’s obligation to its children.

Plunderbund is one of Ohio’s most valuable bloggers. In this post, Plunderbund points to an alarming trend in that state: the authorization of charter schools that are connected to clerics and churches.

To begin with, there are the Gulen schools, associated with a reclusive Turkish imam. With 150 schools, it is the nation’s largest charter chain, with 19 located in Ohio and operating under the names of Horizon Science Academy and Noble Academy. Plunderbund notes that State Representative Cliff Rosenberger, “a leading candidate to become the next Ohio Speaker of the House, accepted an all-expenses paid junket to Turkey offered by the Niagara Foundation, part of the Gulen network.” Plunderbund also refers to FBI raids on Gulen schools in Columbus and Cleveland whose outcome is not yet determined, but how often are traditional public schools the target of FBI investigations?

Plunderbund moves on to the story of FCI Academy, a Columbus charter school whose financial troubles led to the firing of a dozen staff members. FCI Academy was founded by Bishop Edgar Allen Posey of the Living Faith Apostolic Church and his wife, Tracey, along with a third person. the school’s current governing board president is Tracey Posey, wife of Bishop Edgar Allen Posey.

Plunderbund writes:

“A Google search lists an address for FCI Academy as 2177 Mock Road, Columbus, and another Google search for the Living Faith Apostolic Church shows the church being located at the same address. The co-location of the church and the school, along with the fact that the wife of the church’s pastor is president of the charter school’s governing authority, should raise very serious issues with the Ohio Department of Education, State Auditor. Attorney General, and other state monitors related to the legal status of this school as a qualified recipient of state education funds.

“An examination of the school’s website shows that FCI Academy last posted an annual report for the 2010-2011 school year. That report lists Tracey Posey as the president of the school governing board, along with Carly Shye as treasurer. In late 2012, Shye was sentenced to two years in prison and fined more than $470,000 for embezzlement from a number of charter schools that he served as treasurer.

“In light of the school being founded by a bishop, currently housed in church property, and the bishop’s spouse currently serving as president of the school governing authority, astute observers wonder how does this state of affairs complies with the requirements of Ohio Revised Code Section 3314.03 (A)(11)(c):

“The school will be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations, and will not be operated by a sectarian school or religious institution.”

But that’s not all.

There is also the curious story of Heir Force Academy, now known as Heir Force Community School. It converted from a chartered nonpublic school to a chartered community school, now publicly funded.

Plunderbund writes:

“In looking at this formerly chartered nonpublic school which is now receiving state taxpayer funds as a public charter school, an examination of two other websites reveals that Darwin Lofton is the associate pastor of Cornerstone Harvest Church and Darwin Lofton is the Executive Director of Heir Force Community School. The school’s governing board lists David Roberts as its president, and Sherri Roberts, his wife, also sits on the board of the public charter school.

The same questions raised by the church and state entanglements of FCI Academy and Living Faith Apostolic Church in Columbus cry out for answers when a discerning eye looks at the structures between Heir Force Community School and Cornerstone Harvest Church in Lima. Somehow those questions lead us back to the law:

“The school will be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations, and will not be operated by a sectarian school or religious institution.”

What does the Ohio Department of Education and Governor Kasich’s office say about these church-state entanglements? So far, nothing.

The Board of Trustees of the Meridian, Mississippi, public school district voted unanimously to terminate an agreement with Freedom Rock Christian Fellowship Church because the church planned to open a charter school.

 
“Freedom Rock is among a dozen groups statewide that have filed applications for the first charter schools in Mississippi. The Meridian church and its parent organization New Destiny Urban Community Development Corporation have submitted a petition for the New Destiny Charter Academy, also referred to as “The Academy.” The Academy is a two-phase project, which, in the first two years – SY2014-2014 and SY2015-2016 – will serve students from K-3, and beginning in SY2016-17 will begin additionally serving grades 4-5.
The school district and church entered into an agreement in October 2013 for operation of Freedom Rock’s Camp Destiny after school program, which was awarded a $1.7 million 21st Century Grant by the Mississippi Department of Education, with the money to be disbursed over 4.5 years.
“The Department of Education does provide those type of grants, and they are awarded to organizations that have significant relationships with school districts,” Taylor said.
Should Freedom Rock establish a charter school in the district, that would put them in competition with MPSD, Taylor said, adding that the establishment of a charter school in the local school district would mean a loss of state funding and educators for MPSD.
“For example, if a charter school came into our district and they were just mildly successful and were able to attract 100 of our students, the Meridian Public School District would lose 100 students, $1 million dollars, 15 teachers and we would have to close a school building. None of our expenses would go down, we would just lose that much money and teachers,” he said.

 

Common sense: The school board was not prepared to harm its public schools for the sake of a charter school run by the church.

 

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