Archives for category: Separation of church and state

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.

The U.S. Department of Justice abandoned its effort to block the Louisiana voucher program in districts where it undermined federal desegregation orders.

Republicans were jubilant.

Millions of state funds will now be spent to send children to fundamentalist religious schools that teach creationism and have no curriculum or certified teachers. This is called “reform.”

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.

This comment was posted in response to a report by Education Trust Midwest about Michigan’s expansion of low-performing (and failing) charter schools. The irony is that the original theory of charters was that they would either meet their goals or lose their charter. twenty plus years ago, no one considered the possibility that for-profit and even nonprofit charters would make political contributions and assemble a political base that outweighed the quality of the schools.

The reader writes:

“Yes, there are charters of varying quality. The problem in Michigan is that the state has no real authority to close a charter (even though it gets state money). A member of the state board of education noted in an article months ago (on the same topic) that it’s up to the authorizers to close the school. So in the case of a for-profit organization (like Leona Group) the only motivation to close a school would be a lack of profitability rather than a poor quality school.

Also understand that Michigan’s ideological legislature (particularly the House) doesn’t really care about school quality when it comes to charters. Charters don’t typically unionize and they underpay their teachers relative to public schools. This is in the interest of the legislature (and governor). So they really don’t mind that many charters underperform.

In 2011, Michigan passed many policies that seemed to make some sense. Public school couldn’t really debate accountability measures too hard. In some ways, those laws were well-intended. But the state’s magnificent investment in charter expansion and the money-pit EAA (which is getting so much outside money and additional state money that it is unbelievable) has revealed an ideological approach rather than an educational reform.

Charter schools have become the “out” for parents who want their kids away from other kids more than anything. Some charters are really just a way for churches to have a school funded by the state. One local charter is really just the kids from a local mega-church. As has been noted many times, charters are not a game changer. They vary in quality. This is particularly noteworthy in that the report comes from EdTrust who is no friend of public schools, by the way.”


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