Archives for category: Separation of church and state

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.”

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?

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