Archives for category: Religion

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.

 

Late-breaking news from Albany: according to this story in the Buffalo News, tax breaks for private and religious schools will not be in the state budget.

“A plan promoted by the Catholic Church to give lucrative state tax breaks to donors to private schools has died in last-minute budget talks, lawmakers said Thursday night, as has a push by charter schools to get the state to reimburse them for school building infrastructure improvements……The large tax break program for donors who give to nonprofit groups that, in turn, give to private schools was a top priority for the Catholic Church. The church’s leaders have said the plan would have helped reduce the need to close as many schools as dioceses around the state have in recent years.

“Instead, lawmakers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the final budget deal will increase an existing funding pot that goes to Catholic schools for state-mandated services for which they get reimbursed, such as student attendance services and scoring of state tests administered by the private schools. But sources say the state is behind by at least $200 million in those mandated services costs over the past 10 years and the amount being discussed for new aid this year will not come close to making up those past owed payments….

“The overall state aid to education will grow by $1.1 billion, up from the $800 million Cuomo proposed to a total of $22 billion…..

“Charter schools also are in line for more state funding. In return, they must agree to give state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli authority to audit their finances.”

Last week, Slate published an article about a large Texas-based charter chain that teaches creationism in its science classes. A spokesman for the chain, Responsive Education Solutions defended the practice.

“According to the article in Slate, students in Responsive Education Solutions charter schools get a different spin on biogy and history, to accord with religious dogma. “

Zack Kopplin wrote:

“When public-school students enrolled in Texas’ largest charter program open their biology workbooks, they will read that the fossil record is “sketchy.” That evolution is “dogma” and an “unproved theory” with no experimental basis. They will be told that leading scientists dispute the mechanisms of evolution and the age of the Earth. These are all lies.

“The more than 17,000 students in the Responsive Education Solutions charter system will learn in their history classes that some residents of the Philippines were “pagans in various levels of civilization.” They’ll read in a history textbook that feminism forced women to turn to the government as a “surrogate husband.”

“Responsive Ed has a secular veneer and is funded by public money, but it has been connected from its inception to the creationist movement and to far-right fundamentalists who seek to undermine the separation of church and state.”

Now the chain has plans to open additional charter schools in Arkansas, as reported by Max Brantley of the “Arkansas Times,” a writer in that state who continues to defy its most powerful family. The new charters, it appears, will facilitate the resegregation of Little Rock. Not what you expect to hear on the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Zack Koppelin is a college student in Texas who grew up in Louisiana. He is determined to expose the publicly-funded schools that teach creationism. As a high school student, he drew attention to voucher schools teaching religious dogma as science. Now in Texas, he finds creationism taught in the state’s biggest charter chain:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 16, 2014
Contact: Zack Kopplin
(225)-715-5946
Zsk1@Rice.edu

Texas’ Largest Charter District is Teaching Creationism

Houston, Texas — Is the Fossil Record “sketchy?” Is evolution “dogma?” Do leading scientists doubt the age of the Earth?

At Responsive Education Solutions’ charter schools, a public Texas Charter “Super-Network” with 17,000 students and over 65 schools, students are learning creationism and false history.

Responsive Ed is the largest charter network in the State of Texas and it receives $82 million in public money, annually.

Science activist Zack Kopplin, who investigated the program, said, “This creationist charter program represents an attack on science, an attack on the First Amendment, and is an insidious threat to the charter movement itself.”

Kopplin also said, “Responsive Ed’s creationist curriculum presents a moment of truth for the Charter movement; will charter proponents demand the closure of schools that teach this creationist rot? Responsive Ed has crossed a line and charter authorizers should immediately revoke Responsive Ed’s charters for academic malpractice.”

Read more about Responsive Ed’s creationist curriculum at Slate.com:

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/01/creationism_in_texas_public_schools_undermining_the_charter_movement.html

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Jewish charter schools? There are only a few, but their number is growing. They prefer to be known as Hebrew language charter schools, which helps them skirt the issue of separation of church and state.

But whatever they call themselves, they are all founded and run by Jews and some are based in Jewish religious facilities and led by clergy.

They are funded, however, by public tax dollars.

They can be found in Florida, Néw York, and other states. Some feature Hebrew immersion (Hebrew is the official language of Israel, which is a Jewish state.)

Read here about the two different types of Hebrew charter schools.

And read here about the Hebrew charter school that was approved to open in San Antonio, Texas, this fall. It will open in a Jewish community center that previously maintained a Jewish day school.

What’s wrong with Hebrew charter schools?

It violates the long-established principle of separation of church and state to spend public funds on an institution that promotes religion. Hebrew is not a neutral language. It is the historic language of the Jewish people. Judaism is a religion.

It asks taxpayers to bear responsibility for schools that are essentially religious. In effect, taxpayers are subsidizing families that have the freedom to choose a nonpublic religious school. If they want it, they should pay for it. Public responsibility is for public, secular schools.

It is an attack on the very principle of public education, which belongs to the entire community and should be open to all.

Where there is a demand for instruction in Hebrew, it can be taught in regular schools, which offer Spanish, French, Latin, German, and other world languages.

But no one is fooled by the pretense that a Hebrew school has no connection to the Jewish religion.

I write this as a Jew whose grandchildren (two of them) went to a Jewish day school. Let them thrive and flourish. But don’t call them public schools. If the Jewish community is unwilling to support Jewish education, don’t ask for public money to do it. It is a private communal responsibility. No subterfuge can hide that.

There is good reason for separation of church and state.

America was founded by religious dissidents. Our Founding Fathers wrote into the First Amendment that Congress was not permitted to establish a religion. They wanted all people of all faiths–or none–to live in peace.

Some states had an established religion for a time, but religious diversity made established religion untenable.

One of the great things about public school is that it is separate from religious practice. Everyone, regardless of the religion they hold dear, may learn together.

But what happens when the town itself is controlled by a single religious group? What happens when that sect controls the public schools while its own children attend religious schools? What happens to the public schools?

Here is what happens. It is not a pretty story: They gut them.

From the story:

“Midway through her junior year, something seemed to give way. The school’s deans, who had handled discipline, had been laid off, and many students started arriving at school very late or skipping it entirely. The security staff was also cut, and so fights became more frequent, and students often stayed shut in their classrooms until the halls cleared. Clubs were eliminated, as well as sports teams and the drama program, until the communal life of the schools dis­appeared and it seemed to Olivia Castor, another Spring Valley High School student, that the school board’s vision of education consisted of little more than “reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

“Then those were cut, too. Last year, the kindergarten school day was reduced by half. AP classes and ESL programs fell by the wayside. In the high schools, so many teachers have been laid off that students can’t fill their schedules: Some have five lunch periods and study halls in an eight-period day. This year, the district floated a proposal to eliminate kindergarten altogether and shorten the school day for everyone else. Jean Fields, the principal of Ramapo High School, told me that if that measure were adopted, not a single student would qualify for the Advanced Regent’s Diploma, considered essential for getting into competitive colleges. Almost half of her 1,400 students would no longer be able to graduate in four years, because they simply will not be able to amass enough credits in time. Last week, the district pulled the most draconian cuts off the table, and suggested firing 50 additional teachers and staff members instead. Even this will mean more students who can’t fill their schedules with classes. “It’s not that we don’t care about graduating,” says Castor. “It’s that the tools for us to graduate are being taken away. We don’t have the classes that can give you a chance to compete.”

A group of Republican legislators in North Carolina decided against introducing legislation that would allow the state and its counties to establish an official religion.

They planned to argue that the Constitution prevents Congress from establishing a religion, but not states or counties.

There was enough outcry to persuade them to hold off.

As we are learning, Tennessee legislators and education “leaders” operate in an alternate universe.

They want to cut the welfare benefits of families if their children get low test scores.

They want to attract for-profit corporations to drain taxpayer dollars out of the public schools, and never hold them accountable for bad results (see, Tennessee Virtual Academy).

They do whatever ALEC tells them because it is hard to think up new laws to help corporations all by yourself.

They are rushing to pass voucher legislation so that every family has the choice to take public dollars to a religious school, but a big thought just occurred: will Tennessee taxpayers be paying to send kids to Muslim schools?

Yes, there are Muslim religious schools in Memphis and Nashville, where most of the vouchers will go.

No law will stand up in any federal court that excludes them.

Gosh, what will those big thinkers do now?

A Fulton County parent sent me this notice of a meeting today: the second annual Faith Summit “to forge partnerships between schools and the faith community. The free event is for leaders of local houses of worship to join school principals and district leaders in a collaborative discussion on practical ways to provide resources benefiting both schools and houses of worship.”

The parent was disturbed by that. It seems to be part of a larger trend to eliminate the line between public and private, between church and state. We can respect all religions, don’t you think, without bringing religious ideas into the public schools.

I previously named Zack Kopplin to the honor roll for his outspoken opposition to schools teaching creationism. A native of Louisiana, Zack criticized Governor Bobby Jindal’s voucher plan for using public funds to send students to schools that teach creationism.

Zack, a student at Rice University, recently appeared on the Bill Moyers show to talk about vouchers and creationism.

The show featured an interactive map that pinpoints every school teaching creationism with public funding. Most are concentrated in Florida and Louisiana.

If Governor Haslam in Tennessee gets his way (abetted by State Commissioner Kevin Huffman [ex-TFA]), there will be many more creationist schools funded by taxpayers. Even more taxpayer dollars will flow to such schools in Alabama and Georgia, and don’t discount their spread into Indiana, Ohio, and other states.

Is this the STEM education that will propel our nation into the 21st century?

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