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Litigating Against Private School Vouchers

Join Education Law Center and Public Funds Public Schools on Wednesday, February 24, from 3:00-4:30 p.m. EST for a webinar, “Litigating Against Private School Vouchers.” 

During the webinar, experienced attorneys will discuss lawsuits challenging private school voucher programs and other diversions of public funds to private education in state and federal courts.    
 
Moderator: Bacardi Jackson, Southern Poverty Law Center

Panelists:Alice O’Brien, National Education Association
Christopher Wood, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd
Tamerlin Godley, Paul Hastings
Jessica Levin, Education Law Center

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If you have any questions about the webinar, please contact Nicole Ciullo at nciullo@edlawcenter.org. ‌  ‌

Politicians in New York City and New York State eagerly seek the endorsement of the ultra-orthodox Hasidic community because it tends to vote as a bloc, favoring whoever supports their interests. One of their highest goals is to make sure that their religious schools are free of any state mandates. Andrew Yang has emerged as the leading defender of the yeshivas and their “right” not to provide a secular education.

An investigation of yeshivas by New York City officials that started in 2015 wasn’t completed until 2019. The investigation was prompted as a result of complaints by a group of yeshiva graduates called YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education), led by Naftuli Moser. YAFFED said that some yeshivas failed to teach basic secular subjects such as English, science, and mathematics, leaving their students unprepared to enter secular society. YAFFED accused Mayor de Blasio of slowing down the investigation to placate his allies in the politically powerful Orthodox Jewish community.

In 2018, the New York Times ran an opinion piece by a graduate of a yeshiva complaining that all of his schooling had been taught in Yiddish or Hebrew, leaving him with no skills for the modern economy.

I was raised in New York’s Hasidic community and educated in its schools. At my yeshiva elementary school, I received robust instruction in Talmudic discourse and Jewish religious law, but not a word about history, geography, science, literature, art or most other subjects required by New York State law. I received rudimentary instruction in English and arithmetic — an afterthought after a long day of religious studies — but by high school, secular studies were dispensed with altogether.

The language of instruction was, for the most part, Yiddish. English, our teachers would remind us, was profane.

During my senior year of high school, a common sight in our study hall was of students learning to sign their names in English, practicing for their marriage license. For many, it was the first time writing their names in anything but Yiddish or Hebrew.

When I was in my 20s, already a father of three, I had no marketable skills, despite 18 years of schooling. I could rely only on an ill-paid position as a teacher of religious studies at the local boys’ yeshiva, which required no special training or certification. As our family grew steadily — birth control, or even basic sexual education, wasn’t part of the curriculum — my then-wife and I struggled, even with food stamps, Medicaid and Section 8 housing vouchers, which are officially factored into the budgets of many of New York’s Hasidic families.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, reported that the yeshivas “receive hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding, through federal programs like Title I and Head Start and state programs like Academic Intervention Services and universal pre-K. For New York City’s yeshivas, $120 million comes from the state-funded, city-run Child Care and Development Block Grant subsidy program: nearly a quarter of the allocation to the entire city.”

When the state or city says that the yeshivas should provide an education for their students that is “substantially equivalent” to secular education, their leaders cry “separation of church and state!” But, inconsistently, their representatives in the legislature actively lobby for tuition tax credits and vouchers. They want the state’s money but not its oversight of the education they provide.

Politico reported in 2019:

Only two out of 28 yeshivas investigated by the city’s Department of Education were deemed to be providing an education “substantially equivalent“ to that given at secular public schools, with another nine on their way to providing it, according to the city’s report on the long-delayed investigation into failing yeshivas.

The group Young Advocates for Fair Education, or YAFFED, lodged complaints against 39 yeshivas it deemed failing in 2015, which is when the city ostensibly began its investigation. After years of delay, the city narrowed its scope to only 28 of the schools. The DOE finished its visits to those schools this year, according to a letter schools Chancellor Richard Carranza sent to Shannon Tahoe, the interim state education commissioner, on

Out of those 28 schools, the DOE said only two were found to be substantially equivalent to legally mandated secular education standards; nine schools were found to be moving toward substantial equivalency; 12 were cited as “developing in their provision of substantially equivalent instruction,” and another five were deemed “underdeveloped in demonstrating or providing evidence of substantially equivalent instruction.

Some yeshivas refused to allow the investigators to enter.

Now comes an election for Mayor in 2021, and Andrew Yang is a prominent candidate.

Yang has made a point of siding with the Orthodox community and defending their “right” to ignore state curriculum standards (e.g., teaching secular subjects like mathematics and science in English, not Hebrew or yiddish). Consequently, he has become a favorite among the leaders of the Ultra-Orthodox community. Yang has made a point of his support for parent’s freedom to choose any kind of education they want.

As other candidates danced around the subject, Yang offered a blunt defense of the embattled Jewish private schools. “I do not think we should be prescribing a curriculum unless that curriculum can be demonstrated to have improved impact on people’s career trajectories and prospects,” Yang said.

He added, pointing to his own month-long Bible course at a Westchester prep school: “I do not see why we somehow are prioritizing secular over faith-based learning.”

The stance rankled some education advocates, who pointed to a 2019 report that found just a fraction of yeshivas were providing students with adequate secular instruction. Other observers described the comments, which echoed a similar answer recently given to The Forward by Yang, as a transparent attempt to curry favor with the Hasidic voting bloc.

This is a transparently disingenuous response, since studying the Bible as literature for a month is very different from religious indoctrination and studying almost all subjects in Hebrew or Yiddish. Certainly this does not prepare young people to enter the modern economy with the skills they need. (Apparently, Yang attended public high school in Somers, New York, in Westchester County, then the private Phillips Exeter in Massachusetts.)

“It’s like a horse race where one horse comes from last to near the top,” one leader in the Orthodox community, who asked for anonymity in order to speak candidly, told Gothamist. While Eric Adams and Scott Stringer were previously seen as the front-runner candidates, “nobody expected we’d even look at this guy,” the source added of Yang. “All of a sudden it’s ‘Whew!’ He’s certainly in that first tier pool of candidates.”

On Twitter, both the Satmar and Bobov, two of Brooklyn’s most influential Hasidic dynasties, have referred to Yang’s comments as “refreshing.” The head of New York government relations for Agudath Israel, an umbrella organization for Haredi Orthodox synagogues, also commended the candidate on Thursday.

The recent comments mark a shift from an answer Yang gave to Politico last month, in which he suggested that schools not meeting baseline standards should be investigated. In the time since, the outlet noted, the campaign has hired the Borough Park District Leader David Schwartz as director of Jewish Community Outreach.

“The things he’s saying echo with great precision what the pro-yeshiva groups are saying,” another source in the Orthodox community told Gothamist. “He’s very carefully putting these talking points out there.”

Yang defended his stance at a forum moderated by Randi Weingarten:

Gracie Mansion hopeful Andrew Yang on Thursday mounted an extraordinary defense of the Big Apple’s embattled yeshiva schools, telling a Jewish mayoral forum that the city has little business “prescribing” secular curriculum to the religious institutions.

Yang made the comments during a virtual New York City mayoral forum hosted by the New York Jewish Agenda after moderator Randi Weingarten asked him: “As mayor, how would you ensure that every child receives what the New York state Constitution calls a sound basic education on secular topics, including not just the public schools, but including the yeshivas and other religious schools.”

“When I looked at the yeshiva question, Randi, the first thing I wanted to see were — what were the outcomes, what is the data,” Yang responded.

The tech entrepreneur and a leading Democratic front-runner in the mayoral race, continued, “I do not think we should be prescribing a curriculum unless that curriculum can be demonstrated to have improved impact on people’s career trajectories and prospects afterwards.”

Yang’s remarks fly in the face of a damning 2019 report by the Department of Educationon yeshiva schools in the city that found that just two of 28 provided adequate secular education to their students.

“If a school is delivering the same outcomes, like, I do not think we should be prescribing rigid curricula,” said Yang who then spoke of his experience in high school.

“I will also say that when I was in public school we studied the Bible for a month. Bible as literature,” he said. “If it was good enough for my public school, I do not see why we somehow are prioritizing secular over faith-based learning.”

Andrew Yang is a cynical opportunist.

Civil rights groups, led by the Southern Education Foundation, are opposing the voucher legislation proposed by Republicans in Georgia.

SEF leads opposition to education savings account bill introduced in Georgia legislature

One of the first pieces of legislation introduced in the Georgia legislature in 2021 was the Georgia Educational Scholarship Act (HB60), a bill that would divert taxpayer dollars to private schools. In February, SEF and nine other education and equity-focused organizations sent a letter to the Georgia House Committee on Education expressing concerns that HB60 would divert funds from public education at a time when schools can least afford to lose it, and further perpetuate inequities.

SEF prepared analysis of the bill and a backgrounder on academic outcomes and participation requirements for similar tax credit scholarship programs across the country.

SEF’s Legislative and Research Analyst also provided testimony to the Senate Education and Youth Committee on SB47, a proposed expansion of the state’s existing special needs voucher program.

Three former state superintendents of education in Indiana wrote a joint letter opposing the Republican plan to expand vouchers.

Jennifer McCormick, Glenda Ritz and Suellen Reed Goddard released a letter criticizing the proposals for diverting funding away from traditional public school students.

House Bill 1005 seeks to expand the eligibility of who can receive a school voucher and would create the “education scholarship program” to allow some families funding for education services outside of public school.

The House is expected to take up the bill for final vote Tuesday.

Reed Goddard took part in a virtual event Monday with the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, a non-profit organization that opposes legislation to fund private school vouchers. Goddard urged people to call their elected officials to oppose the House bill and other legislation. 

“Now is not the time to divert any of our funding from public education where about 94% of our students are educated,” she said. “We are in the throes of a pandemic which challenges technology, teaching techniques, students and parents support and workforce issues.”

Goddard and others fear Gov. Eric Holcomb’s modest increase for K-12 funding in his two-year budget proposal will be erased by legislation expanded choice options if they become law.

Here is the text of the letter signed by the three former state chiefs:

An Opposition Letter from Public School Supporters
to Members of the Indiana General Assembly and Governor Holcomb

In support of the 94% of Indiana students who attend public schools, we strongly oppose House Bill 1005, Senate Bill 412 and Senate Bill 413. Education Scholarship Accounts will divert adequate and equitable funding away from public school students and open the door to unacceptable practices. Hoosiers all lose when children are not well educated and public tax dollars are not accounted for responsibly. 

In Indiana communities, public schools have been and will continue to be the hub for vital services supporting the well-being of the whole child. Passing HB 1005, SB 412 or SB 413 would divert significant monies away from public schools, enhance the opportunity for a lack of oversight related to the intended educational purpose of such funds, further exacerbate insufficiencies tied to Indiana’s teacher compensation, and increase the risk to student growth, proficiency, and well-being. 

Indiana’s most vulnerable youth and families deserve a per-pupil funding level that promotes adequate and equitable funding. Unfortunately, the language of HB 1005 gives advantages to families with high incomes and adds disadvantages for our most vulnerable by shifting risks. HB 1005, if passed, will defeat the spirit of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act and run counter to the initial rhetoric behind Indiana’s school choice.

Even with the amendment, HB 1005 would result in 94% of Indiana’s students receiving less than the tuition support increase of $377 million over two years that Gov. Holcomb’s proposed. Teacher compensation, support staff pay, COVID-19 academic and operational-related costs, student support service demands, constantly changing graduation and accountability requirements, and K-12 workforce development efforts certainly deserve the funding necessary to serve Hoosier students. 

We firmly oppose HB 1005, SB 412 and SB 413. We firmly support the adequate and equitable funding of our Indiana’s public schools representing 94% of Hoosier students and families. 

Dr. Suellen Reed Goddard
1993-2009 Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction

Glenda Ritz
2013-2017 Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction

Dr. Jennifer McCormick
2018-2021 Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

The following organizations support this letter:

Indiana Coalition for Public Education
AFT Indiana
Indiana Association of Career and Technical Education Districts (IACTED)
Indiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (IACTE)
Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents
Indiana Council of Administrators of Special Education (ICASE)
Indiana Parent-Teacher Association (PTA)
Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association
Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA)
Indiana Urban Schools Association

Can anyone explain why the Republicans in the legislature want to harm the public schools that enroll 94% of the children of the state? Did the Republicans familiarize themselves with the research on vouchers, which consistently finds a “significantly negative effect” on academic achievement for students who leave public schools for voucher schools? Why do they want to undermine the quality of their state’s public schools?

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette demonstrated what an absurdity the Indiana voucher program is and why it should not be expanded. Research increasingly shows the negative effects of vouchers on students (see here and here).

Its editorial explained:

Fort Wayne has a parks system, supported primarily by property taxes. Most residents appreciate the parks, whether they use them or not, recognizing the benefits they afford the entire community. There are property owners, however, who don’t use the parks and spend their own money to pay for health club memberships or country club dues.

Now, imagine some of those property owners decide the share of tax dollars they spend for city parks should instead be returned to them as a “park voucher,” available for the members-only clubs they prefer. Without an increase in the tax rate, the amount of money available for city parks would shrink.

That’s the essence of Indiana’s school voucher program, which shifts tax dollars from a public good to a private commodity under the clever name of “Choice Scholarships.” With a voucher framework firmly in place and many Indiana voters convinced “school choice” is a sacred right, the General Assembly’s Republican supermajority is prepared to make its most audacious push yet to expand the program to wealthy Hoosiers.

House Bill 1005, with an estimated cost of $202 million over the next two years alone, will be heard in the House Education Committee at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The proposed bill expands the $172 million a year voucher program to allow a family of four earning as much as $145,000 a year to qualify for vouchers. Median household income in Indiana is about $60,000 a year.

Open the link and read the rest of the editorial.

Multiple studies show that students who leave public schools to enroll in voucher schools fall behind academically. Why do Indiana Republicans want to defund their public schools?

David Berliner, a distinguished scholar of American education, is writing a long essay about the dangers of public funding for religious schools. Currently numerous red states are considering proposal to expand vouchers and transfer more public funds to religious schools, typically without accountability. Their actions will overturn the historic tradition of separation of church and state. As the Pastors for Texas Children often say, that separation guarantees religious Liberty.

Berliner writes:

Public dollars for support of religious schools costs citizens billions of dollars annually, and ends up supporting some horrible things. A contemporary example of this is the criteria for entrance to the Fayetteville Christian School (FCS) in North Carolina. 

The Fayetteville Christian School is recipient, in a recent school year, of $495,966 of public money. They got this in the form of school vouchers that are used by students and their families to pay for the students religious schooling. The entrance requirements for this school, and other religious schools like it, frighten me, though they are clearly acceptable to North Carolinians. From their website, in 2020:1

“The student and at least one parent with whom the student resides must be in agreement with (our) Statement of Faith and have received Jesus Christ as their Savior. In addition, the parent and student must regularly (go to) a local church. (We) will not admit families that belong to or express faith in religions that deny the absolute Deity/Trinity of Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior and path to salvation. …. FCS will not admit families that engage in behaviors that Scripture defines as deviate and sin (illicit drug use, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality (LGBT), etc.)

Once admitted, if the student or parent/guardian with whom the student resides becomes involved in lifestyles contradictory to Biblical beliefs, we may choose to dis-enroll the student/family from the school.” 

[Retrieved February 8, 2021, from https://www.fayettevillechristian.com/copy-of-criteria-1

So, despite the receipt of public money, the Fayetteville Christian School is really notopen to the public at all! This school says, up front and clearly, that it doesn’t want and will not accept Jews, Muslims, Hindu’s, and many others. Further, although supported by public money, it will expel students for their family’s alleged “sins”. Is papa smoking pot? Expelled! Does your sibling have a homosexual relationship? Out! Has mama filed for divorce? You are gone! The admissions and dismissal policies of this school–receiving about a half million dollars of public funds per year–are scandalous. I’d not give them a penny! North Carolina legislators, and the public who elects them should all be embarrassed to ever say they are upholders of American democracy. They are not.

The Tennessee legislature passed a voucher law. It was declared unconstitutional by lower courts.

However the State Supreme Court will revisit the issue. Voucher advocates are hopeful.

Think of all the low-cost, low-quality religious schools that will drain public dollars away from the state’s public schools.

Vouchers will not only take money away from the public schools, they will lower the overall quality of education in the state. Not a good way to build a better future.

Jeff Bryant writes in Alternet about the renewed strength of the voucher forces, which have been energized by Republican gains in the states in the 2020 elections. They aim to defund the public schools that enroll most children and send public money to private and religious schools, even to home schoolers and entrepreneurs.

He begins:

Supporters of public education and school teachers were relieved to see Betsy DeVos leave her job as head of the Department of Education, knowing full well the education policies she and former President Trump supported would go nowhere in a President Biden administration. But they should remain incensed over how her efforts to privatize public schools are being rolled out in state legislatures across the country.

In states as politically diverse as WashingtonArizonaGeorgiaVirginia, and New Hampshire, state legislators are introducing bills to increase the number of charter schools and create new school voucher programs or greatly expand current ones. According to the Educational Freedom Institute (EFI), a think tank that advocates for vouchers, charter schools, and other forms of “school choice,” there are at least 14 states actively considering legislation to pour greater sums of taxpayer dollars intended for public education into privately operated schools. Many of the bills have been introduced since the November 2020 elections, which ousted Trump and DeVos but resulted in big gains for Republicans down-ticket.

These proposals to privatize public schools are taking on new forms that are less transparent, would be easier to pass through legislation, and take larger sums of money from public schools, which educate between 80 and 90 percent of American children. Further, the bills are surfacing when public education is highly vulnerable due to the pandemic and the ensuing economic havoc it is wreaking.

Supporters of public education and the common good must mobilize and push back against efforts to weaken and/or destroy the public schools. Republican legislators are ignoring their own state constitutions, and the historic American tradition of separation of church and state by pushing public money to religious schools. Their obvious goal is to cut funding to education, and they don’t care if it reduces the quality of education in their states, as it surely will. Religious schools and the other private schools that take vouchers hire uncertified teachers, are free of state oversight, and teach prejudice.

The Constitution of the state of Florida bans the transfer of public funds to religious schools or any religious institution. The ban is unequivocal. It says: “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

In 2012, the state voted on a referendum to permit vouchers for religious schools. The proposed Amendment 8 was misleadingly called “the Religious Freedom Amendment.” Voters turned it down by 55%-45%.

Despite the explicit language of the State Constitution, despite the defeated state referendum, despite the body of research that shows that voucher schools are mostly inferior to public schools, despite the number of religious schools that openly discriminate in admissions and that use textbooks that are racist and sexist, Florida’s Republican governors and legislature have steadily expanded its multiple voucher programs, which currently sends about $1 billion to mostly religious schools. These schools are not subject to the same standards and accountability as public and charter schools. Now Florida legislators want to combine its several voucher programs and expand them.

If you live in Florida, say no to this degradation of public education and waste of public funds.

From: Network for Public Education Action <carol@npeaction.org>
Date: Tue, Feb 2, 2021 at 8:16 AM
Subject: [test] Urgent: Stop the Florida Mega-Voucher Bill Today
To: <burriscarol@gmail.com>

Florida SB 48  merges and expands the multiple voucher programs that already exist into two large programs.

If passed, this bill would also reduce the frequency of audits to detect fraud from every year to once every three years, increase the yearly growth rate of voucher programs, and via ESAs, expand the use of public funds for parents to “shop” for private schools or homeschool services.

Here is what to do.

1. Pick up the phone today and call:(Sample Script) My name is (name). Please tell Senator (name) that I strongly oppose SB 48. I support public education. SB 48 is one more attempt to fund private schools and destroy our public school system. 

Chair, Sen. Joe Gruters (850) 487-5023gruters.joe.web@flsenate.govTwitter: @JoeGruters 
Vice Chair, Sen. Shevrin Jones (850) 487-5035jones.shevrin.web@flsenate.govTwitter: @ShevrinJones
Senator Lori Berman(850) 487-5031berman.lori.web@flsenate.govTwitter: @loriberman 
Senator Jennifer Bradley (850) 487-5005bradley.jennifer.web@flsenate.govTwitter: @jenn_bradley 
Senator Doug Broxson(850) 487-5001broxson.doug.web@flsenate.govTwitter: @DougBroxson
Senator Travis Hutson(850) 487-5007hutson.travis.web@flsenate.govTwitter: @TravisJHutson 
Senator Kathleen Passidomo(850) 487-5028passidomo.kathleen.web@flsenate.govTwitter: @Kathleen4SWFL 
Senator Tina Polsky (850) 487-5029polsky.tina.web@flsenate.govTwitter: @TinaPolsky 
Senator Perry Thurston, Jr (850) 487-5033thurston.perry.web@flsenate.govTwitter: @PerryThurstonJr2.

Get on Twitter and tweet: Don’t destroy Florida public schools. #SayNotoSB48  @PerryThurstonJr @TinaPolsky @Kathleen4SWFL @TravisJHutson @DougBroxson @jenn_bradley @loriberman @ShevrinJones @JoeGruters @NPEaction @pastors4flkids Stop the mega-voucher bill. I love Florida Public Schools. Stop defunding them. #SayNotoSB48  @PerryThurstonJr @TinaPolsky @Kathleen4SWFL @TravisJHutson @DougBroxson @jenn_bradley @loriberman @ShevrinJones @JoeGruters @NPEaction @pastors4flkids Stop the mega-voucher bill. #SayNotoSB48 that outsources Florida’s $1 billion voucher program to private organizations for profit.. @PerryThurstonJr @TinaPolsky @Kathleen4SWFL @TravisJHutson @DougBroxson @jenn_bradley @loriberman @ShevrinJones @JoeGruters @NPEaction @pastors4flkids 

3. Send an email to the senators above, using the email addresses under their names (click the address and cut and paste text below):
I oppose SB 48 because it contains no standards, no transparency, and only tri-annual accountability. It gives to the few while ignoring the needs of the many children in public schools. Please vote to oppose SB 48.

Don’t wait. Thanks

 

Carol Burris, Executive DirectorDonations to NPE Action (a 501(c)(4)) are not tax deductible, but they are needed to lobby and educate the public about the issues and candidates we support.
Please make a donation today.Sent via ActionNetwork.org. To update your email address, change your name or address, or to stop receiving emails from Network for Public Education Action, please click here.

Rejoice Christian School in Owasso, Oklahoma, was expelled because she told another girl that she had a crush on her.

If every little girl who had the same feelings for a best friend admitted the same, there would be very few little girls left in school. Children at that age are not thinking about sex, although their elders are.

Should public funds support religious schools? Of course not.