Archives for category: Separation of church and state

At last! Three civil liberties groups have sued to block the implementation of “education savings accounts” in Nevada, which are vouchers that will be used in religious schools.

LAS VEGAS – Three civil liberties organizations filed suit today in Nevada District Court to challenge a school voucher program signed into law last June by Gov. Brian Sandoval. The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued on behalf of a group of parents, clergy, and other taxpayers who oppose the program’s effort to divert taxpayer money to private, religious schools.

“Parents have a right to send their children to religious schools, but they are not entitled to do so at taxpayers’ expense. The voucher program violates the Nevada Constitution’s robust protections against the use of public funds for religious education,” said Tod Story, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. “This program allows public money to be spent at intuitions which operate with sectarian missions and goals and impart sectarian curricula. This is exactly what the Nevada Constitution forbids.”

Under the program, parents of students enrolled in public school for at least 100 days may transfer their children to participating private schools, including religious schools, and are eligible to receive thousands of dollars in public education funds to pay for tuition, textbooks, and other associated costs. The funds will be disbursed through so-called “Education Savings Accounts,” and there are no restrictions on how participating schools can use the money.

The lawsuit argues that the funding scheme violates Article XI Section 10 of the Nevada Constitution, which prohibits the use of public funds for any sectarian purpose. The lawsuit also claims that the program runs afoul of Article XI, Section 2, which requires the legislature to provide for a uniform system of common schools.

“The voucher program will use taxpayer dollars for religious education and indoctrination at a number of religious schools, many of which discriminate in admissions and employment,” said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “The program would be a huge loss for religious liberty if implemented.”

Graig Meyer is a Democrat and a freshman representative in the North Carolina General Assembly. His wife is a teacher in a low-performing, high-poverty school. In this post, he concludes that the state court’s 4-3 decision to permit public funding of vouchers is decisive. He is throwing in the towel even though he knows that most of the students who use vouchers will attend schools that have unaccredited teachers and zero accountability. He knows that the voucher program will harm public education.

“Among my Democratic colleagues, there is broad agreement there are many problems with the current voucher program. There’s little to no accountability for the schools where vouchers are spent. The majority of voucher schools are unaccredited. Many use a curriculum that teaches that dinosaurs lived beside humans and that slaves were treated well. Some are home schools that were never before eligible to receive taxpayer funds. None of them have to participate in any type of testing or assessment that will tell us whether the voucher program is actually leading to better educational outcomes than the public schools.”

Despite all this, he seems ready to throw in the towel. After all, it is now “settled law,” by 4-3. Racial segregation was once settled law. But Graig has no fight in him.

Come on, Graig, stand up to the privatizers. Fight for the public good. Take back the towel. Don’t be a quitter.

The Supreme Court of Colorado struck down the voucher program in Douglas County. It is unconstitutional, the justices said.

After a radical group won control of the public schools of Douglas County in Colorado, they enacted a plan for vouchers. Being a relatively affluent community, there was no baloney about “saving poor kids from failing schools.” The point was privatization of public funds intended for public schools.

Here is the story, as told by the nonpartisan group that brought the suit, called Taxpayers for Public Education.

Contact: Cindy Barnard
(303)905-3803

CO Supreme Court Strikes Down Vouchers

Douglas County Program Found to Violate State Constitution

“Denver, CO June 29, 2015) In a landmark legal decision today, the Colorado State Supreme Court struck down the Douglas County School District (DCSD) voucher program. In the case of Taxpayers for Public Education, et al., v. Douglas County School District, et al., the Court found that the program violates the Colorado Constitution.

“This is a great victory for public school children in Colorado,” said Cindy Barnard, President of Taxpayers for Public Education (TFPE), one of the plaintiffs in the case. “The DCSD voucher program took taxpayer funds, intended for public education, and used that money to pay for private school education for a few select students. The decision means that money set aside for public education in Colorado can only be used the way it was intended to be used- for the betterment of education in Colorado public schools.”

“In this groundbreaking case, Michael McCarthy and Colin Deihl of the Denver office of Faegre Baker Daniels represented Taxpayers for Public Education pro bono. Other plaintiffs and intervenors in the suit included children and parents of the Douglas County School District, Douglas County citizens and several local and national organizations that support a strong and vital public education system.

“As we celebrate this important victory, we have to continue to closely watch the leaders of the Douglas County School District as they look to implement other programs and methods to intentionally erode the quality of public education in their own district,” said Barnard.

“Details of the Court’s ruling can be found on the Taxpayer for Public Education website at taxpayersforpubliceducation.org. ”

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About Taxpayers for Public Education:
Taxpayers for Public Education, (TFPE), is a Colorado-based, bi-partisan, 501c4 organization. The members are Colorado taxpayers and parents of children enrolled in public schools. TFPE supports public education and believes that a strong public education system is instrumental in building and maintaining an extraordinary workforce that will keep American companies and American entrepreneurship viable and robust to meet the challenges in the years ahead.

For more information, please visit: http://www.taxpayersforpubliceducation.org.

Contact:

Cindy Barnard
President, Taxpayers for Public Education
(303) 905-3803
cindrabarnard@q.com

Anne Kleinkopf
Director, Taxpayers for Public Education
(720) 219-6253
annekleinkopf@msn.com

Michael McCarthy
Attorney, Faegre Baker Daniels
(303) 607-3670

Mason Barnard

Plaintiff/Former Douglas County Student

(303) 518 – 7939

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Update! A few minutes ago, I posted that the budget lifted the charter cap by 100. There are differing reports; this one says there will be 180 new charters.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders reached a deal on the budget that included major education issues.

The budget does not include the “education tax credit” for private and religious schools (vouchers), but does include $250 million for religious schools. That should satisfy Mr. Cuomo’s friends in the religious communities whom he courted.

The deal includes 180 new charter schools, 50 in Néw York City and 130 outside the city. That should please the hedge fund manager who gave millions to the Governor’s re-election campaign, while providng Eva Moskowitz plenty of room to grow her chain.

The deal extends mayoral control in NYC for only one year, despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s request to make it permanent. That should remind the Mayor who is in charge.

The deal retains the tax cap on school districts. Regardless of their needs, they won’t be able to raise property taxes by more than 2%, unless they are able to win 60% approval by voters. It may be undemocratic, but it is popular, especially among GOP legislators.

It is amazing how much education policy is now being made during budget negotiations, with no educators in the room.

Ari Hart is an Orthodox Jew who disapproves of the actions taken by the Jewish-dominated school board in East Ramapo, Néw York.

In that district, the majority of the populace is Orthodox Jews, whose children attend yeshivas. Most students in the public schools are black and Hispanic. The school board takes good care of the yeshivas but it shortchanges the public schools.

Today, the state assembly passed a bill to install a state financial monitor for the district, to protect children in public schools.

Ari Hart chastises his co-religionists.

He writes:

“The board has drastically increased the funding going to yeshivas, but it has cut public school classes and extracurricular activities, attempting to sell public school assets at below market prices to private yeshivas, and more. These ethically and at times legally dubious actions have been documented by everyone from newspapers like this one to the New York City Bar Association to the New York State Supreme Court.”

Hart writes
:

“As an Orthodox Jew, when I first learned about what was happening in East Ramapo and about the attitudes of the board, I was shocked and disgusted. The Talmud teaches, “The world endures only for the sake of the breath of school children.” The public actions of this school board over the years have been in flagrant violation of that and so many other Jewish values and teachings. The Torah we share demands over and over again we never trample the stranger, the immigrant and the poor — apt descriptions of many in the public school district. They have also caused a massive Chillul Hashem — desecration of God’s name. The leadership of the school board to date has grossly violated both American and Jewish values. This is not the way to use Jewish power in America.
Instead, we need to find a way to both advance our interests and needs while taking the needs of our fellow citizens into account; rather than just grabbing more and more slices of the pie and leaving those around us hungry, we work together to grow the pie so there is enough for all. This would be a moral use of Jewish power, using it to call out those who are acting unjustly, even when they are from our own community. That is why thousands and thousands of Jewish New Yorkers are lobbying their legislators to pass these bills, which will provide needed oversight. Ultimately, this is about those school children in East Ramapo, and it’s about the very legacy that Jewish New Yorkers will leave on this great state.”

Read more: http://forward.com/opinion/national/309145/in-east-ramapo-an-immoral-use-of-jewish-power/#ixzz3comkGOxQ

Arthur Camins, Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE) at the Stevens Institute of Technology, has a terrific letter to the editor in today’s Néw York Times.

He points out the paradox of choice.

“A look at the ways in which the idea of individual choice is applied by politicians to different issues is revealing. Some politicians want the public to pay for their private choices when it comes to vouchers for religious education, but are against choice when it comes to a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have a baby.

“In both cases they are prepared to violate the basic constitutional principle of separation of church and state. In one case they want the public to pay for their religious choices. In the other they want to impose their religious views on everyone else.”

 

Parents should be able to send their children to the school of their choice. And they do, but the public should not be expected to pay for their private choices.

 

The public has a civic obligation to support public education. Even if you don’t have children, you pay taxes to educate the children of the community. Even if your children are grown, you pay school taxes. Even if you send your children to private school, you pay school taxes. Public schools are a public responsibility.

 

If you don’t like the public schools, you are free to choose a private school, a charter school, a religious school, or home school. That’s your choice. But you must pay for it yourself.

 

We all pay for police and firefighters. If you want a private security guard, pay for it yourself. We all pay for public schools, even if we don’t patronize them. They belong to the community. We do so to invest in the future of our society. It is a civic obligation.

 

We all pay to support public libraries. If you never use the local library, you still have to pay the taxes to support it. If you prefer to buy books instead of using the free public library, don’t ask taxpayers to subsidize your private choice. Buy your own books. Pay for it yourself.

 

The taxes you pay support the common good, not your private preferences. They pay for highways you may never drive on, fire departments you may never call on, beaches open to all that you may never set foot on, public parks, and a range of services and facilities open to all without fee.

 

When it comes to education, there is a simple rule: public money for free, democratically controlled schools, private money for private, privately-controlled, and religious schools.

One question that I have puzzled over again and again is why anyone who really cares about the quality of education would be a proponent of school choice, for example, vouchers for religious schools and charters run as a business. We have an abundance of evidence that these choices don’t usually produce better education. Children from low-performing schools are not being sent with public money to Exeter, Andover, Deerfield Academy, or Sidwell Friends. Instead, they are going to Backwoods Rural Evangelical Church or Mall Academy, which has few certified teachers, no curriculum, and teaches creationism; or they are going to Charter Schools, Inc., where profits matter more than education.

 

This article in Salon by Conor Lynch asserts that the GOP (and I would add, many Democrats who have been bamboozled as well) and corporate America (via ALEC) are complicit in the dumbing down of America. Some candidates, and he singles out Ted Cruz, willingly slander Harvard University (which he attended) as a haven for Communists (and I thought the days of McCarthyism were behind us) and ally themselves in opposition to the scientific evidence about climate change.

 

I have no beef with anyone’s religious beliefs as long as they leave me alone to practice my own religion (or not). But when religion and politics are intermixed, it is not a healthy blend.

 

Lynch writes:

 

Ted Cruz has already made it quite clear that, although he went to Harvard, he is as anti-intellectual as they come; embracing conspiracy theories and comparing the climate change consensus to the theological consensus of the geocentric model during the time of Galileo. Cruz has been adamantly opposed to the entire idea of climate change, and was recently named to be Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. Aside from promoting the conspiracy theory that Harvard law is a communist organization, he has promoted other conspiracies that are outright loony, like saying that George Soros was leading a global movement to abolish the game of golf.

 

Marco Rubio is also hostile to anything contradicting his faith, including climate change, while the leading contender for Republican nomination, Scott Walker, has taken the fight directly to academia, calling for major cuts in public university funding in Wisconsin that would add up to about $300 million over two years. He also just fired 57employees from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources this past Earth Day. Predictably, he doesn’t believe climate change is a big issue either, and possibly has the worst record on environment out of all of the candidates.

 

And so the Republican primaries will be full of the usual evangelical type preaching, damning abortion and calling their Democratic contenders “elitist” snobs, while brushing off those so-called “expert” climate scientists and their warnings. But you can only blame the politicians so much. When it comes down to it, this is simply what a big part of the population expects from their leaders — religious buffoons who embrace a paranoid style of politics; where experts and academics are looked down upon as disconnected and deceitful, and where faith in Jesus and the Bible is the ultimate guiding light. Where one is expected to go with their gut rather than their head, and where “professorial” is an insult. Anti-intellectualism is an American tradition, and these new contenders denying scientific facts and calling Harvard a communist institution are simply embracing a populace that individuals like Billy Sunday and Joseph McCarthy once embraced. The alliance of religion and big business has fully incorporated America’s unfortunate anti-intellectualist culture, which has resulted in millions of people voting against their interest because of their own ignorant hostility towards anything that could be deemed elitist. It is a cycle of ignorance and poverty, and it is exactly what the real elites, like billionaire oil men, aim for.

 

The American writer, Issac Asimov, once said, “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” Unfortunately, this thread has continued to this day, and individuals like Ted Cruz and Scott Walker are here to remind us that ignorance can be quite competitive with knowledge, as long as there’s money behind it.

 

Several governors have slashed spending on higher education–such as Douglas Ducey in Arizona, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. Why? Do they want to stop young Americans from learning about science and history? In some states, the expansion of charter schools is coupled with the abandonment of teacher credentials. The combination of vouchers to attend religious schools, lowered standards for entry to teaching, and budget cuts for higher education is ominous.

A letter to the editor:

“Private School Tax Credits

New York Times Letter To the Editor: by DONNA LIEBERMAN, Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union MAY 22, 2015

Re “Cuomo Promotes Tax Credits for Families of Students at Private Schools”

The right to a meaningful public education is at the core of our democracy, and educational opportunity must be available to all children on a fair and equitable basis, no matter how poor they are, no matter what their educational needs are, and no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York to divert money from public schools to private and religious schools is not about improving public education for all children. It is not about choice. It is about allowing hedge funds and millionaires to siphon money away from public schools to support their narrow idea of what education should look like.

This includes private schools for the 1 percent, religious schools that can throw children out and dismiss teachers for having the wrong faith — or no faith — and privately owned and operated charter schools that operate without accountability and would turn our underfunded public schools into a dumping ground for New York’s neediest and most challenging students.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/22/opinion/private-school-tax-credits.html?mabReward=CTM&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine&_r=0”

The East Ramapo school district is in terrible trouble. The majority of voters are Orthodox Jews, whose children attend religious schools. The public schools are predominantly African-American and Hispanic. The elected school board is dominated by members of the local Orthodox Jewish majority. They have cut spending for the public schools and are accused of diverting money to private yeshivas. which their children attend.

Currently, a bill is in the Legislature to establish a state monitor to protect the rights of the students in the public schools. There is intensive political pressure to kill the bill.

“A bill that would establish a state monitor for the East Ramapo School District, where a school board dominated by Orthodox Jews has drawn criticism for diverting money from public schools to children in local yeshivas, faces an uncertain future after running into resistance in the New York Legislature…..

“Roughly 9,000 students, the vast majority of them black or Latino, attend public schools in the district, while about 24,000 students who live there attend yeshivas. Because they vote in large numbers, Orthodox Jews have held a majority of board seats in East Ramapo since 2005. Since 2005, the board has made severe cuts to public schools, eliminating 445 positions; reducing full-day kindergarten to a half-day; and dropping half the district’s athletic programs and extracurricular activities, the state investigation found.

During the same period, spending on the transportation of students to private schools has increased sharply, and the district has in some cases paid for special education students to attend private schools when similar services were available in public schools. Parents of public school students have grown distrustful of the board, whose meetings have at times devolved into shouting matches between members and the public.”

The Board of Regents should step in to protect the students.

I am generally opposed to state takeovers, as in Newark, where the state has been in control for 20 years. State control is not a way to improve schools. But when the local board is not acting in the best interest of children, as in East Ramapo, action is necessary.

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