Archives for category: Separation of church and state

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.”

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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.

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.”

The spread of vouchers in recent years is alarming. Anywhere from 15-20 states have passed legislation to allow children to use public funds to attend religious schools. In two states that passed voucher laws–North Carolina and Louisiana–the state courts have blocked the diversion of public funds to religious schools (in North Carolina, at least temporarily).

Note that vouchers have never been approved by popular vote.

But what happens in those voucher schools? This article reviews what is taught in the fundamentalist church schools that use the most popular brand of Christian textbooks.

Of course, they learn that God created the world, just as the Bible says. They learn traditional math, which apparently has Biblical sanction. They teach children that gun control is intolerable. They teach that God approves of capital punishment and abhors homosexuality.

Well, you get the drift. Modern science, modern math, anything that tolerates the modern world is not acceptable.

And that’s what you call preparing our children for the 21st century these days.

STEM, in that world, is part of a flower, nothing more.

The Lion of Judah charter school in Cleveland is closing, and the founder was sentenced to five years probation.

“Prosecutors last year accused Romey Coles Jr. and other officials of the Lion of Judah charter school of funneling at least $1.2 million in public funds to businesses associated with the troubled charter school….”

“Prosecutors left Coles’ sentence up to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Janet Burnside, who made it clear to Coles that he would have to make a substantial effort to pay restitution, including telling him to liquidate assets, such as multiple homes he owns.

“Coles, 46, told Burnside, “I’ve made some mistakes and I’m looking to take responsibility for it.”

“Burnside said she didn’t see a prison sentence as proper in the case because she felt the state didn’t properly anticipate the mistakes that could be made when citizens or non-lawyer tried to run charter schools.

“On the other hand, there was a misuse of public dollars and the public is owed it back,” Burnside said.

“Coles’ attorney, Fernando Mack, said his client had good intentions when opening the school on East 55th Street but then got greedy when he saw easy opportunities to make money….

“According to prosecutors, the academy from 2006 to 2011 took in almost $5.8 million from the state and federal government and $1.2 million of it was spent illegally, including items that were purchased for the school but went to the Church of the Lion of Judah, where Coles was a bishop and his wife was a pastor.”

By the way, the Ohio Revised Code Chapter 3314.03 states very clearly in the case of charter schools that “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.”

Does anyone care?

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.


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