Archives for category: Separation of church and state

Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation that will offer public money for the schooling of every student in the state, with no income limits. The state will pay tuition for private schools, religious schools, homeschooling or any other variety of schooling. Critics warned that this bill would be devastating for the state’s public schools. Voucher schools are completely unregulated. The students are not required to take state tests; the schools are not required to hire certified educators. Anything goes. Florida has tough accountability for public schools, but no accountability for voucher schools.

The Orlando Sentinel reported:

At a bill signing ceremony at a private boys high school in Miami, DeSantis described the legislation as “the largest expansion of education choice not only in the history of this state but in the history of these United States. That is a big deal.”

The controversial bill was celebrated by GOP leaders and parents who currently use the scholarships, but it also faces fierce criticism from those who say its price tag — estimates range from $210 million to $4 billion in the first year — will devastate public schools, which educate about 87% of Florida’s students.

Critics also argue an expansion will mean more public money spent on private, mostly religious, schools that operate without state oversight. Some of the schools hire teachers without college degrees and deny admission to certain children — most often those who don’t speak English fluently, have disabilities or are gay.

“Funneling this much in taxpayer dollars to private schools with no parameters to ensure accountability for student success is fiscally irresponsible and puts at risk the families and communities who utilize our state’s public schools and the services they provide,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of the Florida Policy Institute, in a statement.
The think-tank opposes the expansion of Florida’s voucher programs and estimated the $4 billion hit to public schools.

Through its voucher programs, Florida currently provides scholarships to more than 252,000 children with disabilities or from low-income families.

Under the new law, the income guidelines are wiped out, though preference will be given to those from low and middle-income backgrounds. The result of the universal voucher law is that all of the 2.9 million public school-age children in Florida could opt for an “education savings account,” if they left public schools, and those already homeschooled or in private school could seek the money, too.

In 2017, the Orlando Sentinel published a prize-winning investigation of Florida’s voucher schools called “Schools Without Rules.” The series has been repeatedly updated. It’s worth subscribing to the newspaper to read the series.

Our reader Carolmalaysia received a letter from the Indiana State Teachers Association, protesting two bills to undercut public schools, teachers and librarians. She signed the petition.

1.] TAKE ACTION: Tell legislators to prioritize public schools and reject private school voucher expansion in radical state budget

All kids, no matter where they live, should be able to pursue their dreams in a great public school. However, the currently proposed radical budget increases spending on private school vouchers by 70%, while increasing traditional public school funding, where 90% of Hoosier students attend, by only 5%.

The current budget would provide more than $1 billion for wealthy families making up to $220,000 to attend private school for free, while neighborhood public schools continue to struggle to provide enough resources for students and pay hard-working educators a competitive salary.

Urge lawmakers to prioritize public education and oppose this huge expansion of unaccountable private school vouchers in the budget. Ask them to increase their commitment to public schools.


SB 12 is yet another culture war bill furthering a false narrative about our public schools. Rather than locally addressing issues over content, the bill would open teachers and librarians to criminal prosecution over educational materials. The bill would remove existing legal defenses schools and school libraries may use when locally determining educational materials. These matters will end up in litigation without administrative steps.

This bill has passed out of the Senate and is now under consideration by the House. Tell your representative to oppose SB 12.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, provides up-to-date insight about the politics of education in his state. One remarkable development, which he describes, is the likely approval of a “religious charter school.”

Incidentally, the rightwing Manhattan Institute—where bigot Chris Rufo is a senior fellow—says the time has come to fund religious charter schools.

This week in Oklahoma, as expected, State Superintendent Ryan Walters, Governor Kevin Stitt, and other far rightwing extremists continued their divisive and cruel campaigns. Legal and legislative investigations of scandals involving Gov. Stitt’s staffers were also advanced. And, as was also expected, more Republicans pushed back against ideology-driven privatization schemes. Also, the effects of Gov. Stitt’s unprecedented takeover of five state agencies have continued to make headlines in the Oklahoman and the Tulsa World.

As the Tulsa World reported:

“Walters’ proposed new rules on parental rights [which] would require schools to allow parents to inspect sexual education classroom materials and to have schools honor their written objections “in whole or in part” to sex ed “or any other instruction questioning beliefs or practices in sex, morality, or religion…”

And, “Walters’ proposed new rules on school library materials [to] define ‘pornographic materials’” and “to submit to the state a complete list of all books and other materials available in their school libraries and have a written policy for reviewing the ‘educational suitability and age-appropriate nature.’”

Walters also removed photos of educators in the Education Department Hall of Fame, to prevent the highlighting of “Union leaders and association heads.”  Walters said the Education Department will not be showing “union bosses.”

Oklahoma also made national news for ignoring the law requiring charter schools to be “‘nonsectarian’ in their programs and operations and that no sponsor may ‘authorize a charter school or program that is affiliated with a nonpublic sectarian school or religious institution.’” A Catholic church applied for a virtual school charter. This religious charter school would be funded by “as much as $2.5 million in state money to serve a projected 500 students in its first year.” The school would hire “educators, administrators, and coaches committed to living and teaching Christ’s truth” as understood by the Catholic Church.

Education Week also explained that some “legal experts are horrified at the proposition.”  For instance, Derek Black says, “The explicit merger of public education with religious organizations to deliver a public education to students is something we haven’t seen or even contemplated happening in our lifetimes.”

Moreover, “MAGA” Republicans continue to attack parents of transgender children. For instance, Sen. Shane Jett “said kids are being told lies that they can transition from one gender to another.” He added, “There is no spectrum of choice, … You are a boy. You are a girl.” Jett says “people are cashing in on transgender care” and he claimed “it involves horrific surgeries with cascading consequences.”

On the other hand, House Speaker McCall who previously opposed vouchers and who will probably be running for governor, advanced HB 2775 and HB 1935 which pushed back against Walters, Stitt, and other rightwingers.  I’ve long respected the legislative leaders who stood in support of McCall’s bills, but I don’t know how to respond to that compromise. On one hand, I’d offer a concurring opinion in regard to Rep. Rhonda Baker, who said, “We figured out the solution without selling out to special interest groups that were putting pressure on us,” and I’d push back in terms of what happened when the House members were “very diligent about being careful to protect our constituencies.” But clearly, McCall’s constituencies were rewarded.

Yes, these House members proposed a $150 million pay raise, while protecting teachers from another doomed-to-fail merit pay gamble, but they offered a mere $2,500 raise, which is 1/2 of the Senate’s proposed raise. McCall protected rural and affluent schools but the funding formula capped payments at $2 million per district, meaning that urban districts that disproportionately serve poor children and children of color would be discriminated against. (An insider estimates that the largest districts will only receive a $250 per pupil increase, which is ½ of what smaller districts will receive. Another insider reports that the bill, as it reads today, would mean the high-poverty Oklahoma City Public Schools System would receive less than 1/10th of what a smaller district could receive.) Fortunately, former Speaker of the House Steve Lewis predicts that such a formula would be overturned in court. 

Yes, McCall shifted $300 million in education funds away from vouchers to districts. But they then shifted $300 million in tax revenues to tax credits, which Nondoc correctly described as “slightly different than the education savings accounts — or school vouchers.” So, in describing their tax incentives for the rich without using the word voucher, the Speaker could benefit politically, while actually providing a system worse than some other voucher bills.

Steve Lewis explains why that is the case. He lists the tuition of top private schools: “Casady, $24,850; Bishop McGuinness $15,005 plus $1,195 in fees; Bishop Kelly, $9,845; Cascia Hall, $16,800; and Holland Hall, $21,449.” So, “one could argue that the $5,000 credit is not going to help many new students go to one of these schools. The credit is most likely a gift to people already sending their children to private schools.”  

The compromise bill also offers a political bailout to Stitt and Walters, which is understandable for Republicans serving their most powerful constituencies. Both bills reward the affluent, but won’t help poor families that will be losing Covid-era health and food services.

Not being a Republican insider, I’m not qualified to judge the education policy concessions that were made by pro-education Republicans. Given my bias towards optimism, I would note that those trade-offs enable push-back against Stitt’s unprecedented takeover of state agencies.  The World’s Carmen Forman reports, “Republican lawmakers want to reduce the number of appointments Stitt gets to the State Board of EducationVeterans Commission and the Turnpike Authority board — all governing bodies currently stacked with the governor’s appointees.” 

In order to defend public schools, the complete control of the Board of Education by non-educators and privatizers must be reversed. So, Reps. Baker, and Rep. McBride “would dilute the governor’s near-total control of the Oklahoma State Board of Education. It [their bill] cleared the House Common Education Committee, which Baker chairs, on a unanimous 9-0 vote with no discussion or debate.”

By the way, McBride said, “I hope the governor does not take this as a personal attack.” But he was more explicit in his effort to block Ryan Walter’s rule-making. As Foreman reports, “McBride said he doesn’t want Walters making administrative rules for the State Department of Education as a ‘knee-jerk reaction.’” And he’s challenging the Board’s power to downgrade a school system’s accreditation because Walters criticized their books.  

When McBride’s bill passed by a 10 to 1 votes, he spoke his mind: “we currently have a legitimate problem. I want to put this gentleman [Walters] in a box… focus on public education and not his crazy destruction of public education.” McBride also said explicitly, “Its fear mongering, I think …And teachers, librarians, superintendents, principals are in fear of what he might do.”

Moreover, regarding the other four state agency battles, “Rep. Danny Sterling cited recent drama related to some of the governor’s appointments to the Veterans Commission as a prime example of why changes are needed. And the attorney general recently said Stitt did not follow state law when appointing three members of the commission.” And recently, a district judge ruledthat Stitt’s Turnpike Authority did not follow the Open Meetings law when funding a $5 billion project. 

Also, Stitt’s other two longstanding scandals are still unfolding. Newly-elected Attorney General Gentner Drummond is taking over the investigation of the Tourism Department and the “Swadley’s deal that spurred a criminal probe, an audita state lawsuit and numerous questions about why the business appeared to be overpaid for its work.” 

The most recent, ongoing scandal was that, “Matt Stacy, who served as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s hospital surge plan adviser during the COVID-19 pandemic, was charged with 13 felony counts.” The World explained, “He was accused of paying residents to be ‘ghost owners’ of grow operations for Chinese organized crime operations and other out-of-state clients.”  This also should be another reminder of the death toll that resulted from the confusion prompted by Stitt moving the Health Center’s testing lab as Covid was surging.

So, there are serious problems with even the best House bill, but maybe resistance to it will press legislators to support Republican Sen. Adam Pugh’s excellent bill. It would cost less by investing in schools, while not giving into pressure to help the affluent, and not discriminating against the poor.

Moreover, the pro-education Republicans understand that school improvement is impossible without building trusting relationships. And that is impossible until Stitt and Walters stop spreading hate and falsehoods. I also expect they understand that our democracy is in danger, and we must fight back against rightwing lies. 

And, maybe more of the rest of their party will join them.

Governor DeSantis is unhappy with the College Board Because it had the nerve to disagree with him. He said he might find an alternative for the Board’s products, the SAT and AP courses. The Miami Herald says that the state is in discussions with a new test vendor whose was designed for Christian schools and home schools.

As Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Republican leaders explore alternatives to the College Board’s AP classes and tests, top state officials have been meeting with the founder of an education testing company supporters say is focused on the “great classical and Christian tradition.”

The Classic Learning Test, founded in 2015, is used primarily by private schools and home-schooling families and is rooted in the classical education model, which focuses on the “centrality of the Western tradition.”

The founder of the company, Jeremy Tate, said the test is meant to be an alternative to the College Board-administered SAT exam, which he says has become “increasingly ideological” in part because it has “censored the entire Christian-Catholic intellectual tradition” and other “thinkers in the history of Western thought.”

As DeSantis’ feud with the College Board intensified this week, Tate had several meetings in Tallahassee with Ray Rodrigues, the state university system’s chancellor, and legislators to see if the state can more broadly offer the Classic Learning Test to college-bound Florida high school students.

“We’re thrilled they like what we’re doing,” Tate said. “We’re talking to people in the administration, again, really, almost every day right now.”

Will there be another test for students who are not Christian?

Read more at:

Carol Burris is the executive director for of the Network for Public Education. in this post, which she wrote exclusively for the blog, she reveals the details of Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ plan to defund and destroy the public schools in her state.

Burris writes:

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of Baptist minister and former Governor Mike Huckabee, missed learning the 9th commandment that prohibits telling a lie. As press secretary to Donald Trump, her distortions of the truth resulted in the editor of Forbes warning corporations against hiring Sanders and other Trump “propagandists,” writing, “Forbes will assume that everything your company or firm talks about is a lie.”


Now she is the Governor of Arkansas. On her first day in office and in her response to Biden’s State of the Union, she parroted the old “education is the civil rights issue of our time” line that has been used to justify horrible policies from school closures to charter schools and vouchers. However, the disconnect between what she says and what she does quickly became apparent. On her first day in office, she issued an executive order prohibiting “indoctrination and critical race theory in schools” and another banning the term “Latinx” from being used in state documents. State authorities are investigating AP African American Studies at Little Rock Central High School, where the majority of students are Black.

If we need further proof that this self-proclaimed champion of Civil Rights is more aptly described as a champion of Civil Wrongs, look at her recently leaked ed reform plan.

Here are its features:


The Privatization of Public Education:

· Her voucher plan is a universal ESA—the plan now favored by the far-right. These plans have few rules and no family eligibility requirements. They have become Entitlement Spending Accounts–cash going into the pockets of private school families regardless of income. The leaked plan does not say how taxpayers will pay for it. But everyone will be eligible by 2025. It includes Voucher funding for homeschools. The only restrictions will apply to vendors, so those who enroll their children in those recently uncovered Neo-Nazi homeschools can find ways to cash in.

· Increased tax credits for contributions to an existing voucher program.

· Local School Boards can contract with an open-enrollment charter school or private company to run a school campus at risk of state takeover due to low performance—and if they do, they get a financial incentive.

· Establishment of a charter-school construction fund for new charters and expansion.

· Elimination of the cap on charters.

· Charter school applications no longer need to be reviewed and approved by the local school district board of directors.

· All students attending a public school can take courses and earn credit for classes not offered in their school. By the beginning of the 2025-2026 school year, students attending a public school that receives a letter grade of “C”, “D”, or “P” from the Arkansas School and District Accountability System may take their required courses (i.e. math, English, etc.) through the course choice program. Bet your bottom dollar that these courses will be online, with vendors like Stride K12 making a fortune.

Censoring and Controlling Curriculum

· K-3 literacy evaluation will be aligned with the “science of reading.”

· Before grade 5, teachers cannot provide classroom instruction on the following topics: sexually explicit materials, sexual reproduction, sexual intercourse, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

· School districts must implement an age-appropriate child sexual prevention program for grades K-12, allowing parents to preview materials and exempt their children from instruction. (I have no idea what a child sexual prevention program even is.)

· The Secretary of Education will review the Department of Education regulations, policies, materials, and communications to ensure they do not indoctrinate students with ideologies that conflict with the principle of equal protection under the law.

· No school employee or student must attend training on prohibited indoctrination or Critical Race Theory.


Harmful Policies for Students

· 3rd-grade retention based on deficits in reading proficiency.

· An accountability system for pre-school education that includes student data.

· Literacy testing three times a year for all students in K-3.

· Curriculum tracking in Grade 8.

· Community service requirements, which may, for some students, be challenging to meet.

· Mandated cops on campus.

· Career-ready pathways in partnership with local business and industry leaders” translate workforce training programs to track students into low-paying and middle-wage jobs.

Punitive Policies for Teachers


· Elimination of due process in dismissals.

· Base salaries will no longer increase by years of experience or for Master’s degrees.

· Bonuses based on VAM.

There are a few likable initiatives in her plan, such as paid maternity leave for teachers, but if she makes districts fund them even as she drains their funding with charter schools and voucher expansion, a good initiative will be one more financial pressure on already underfunded schools.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ education plan is a hodgepodge of all the awful and ineffective ideas proposed since No Child Left Behind. The fingerprints of JEB! and the Walton family are over the leaked legislation.

Despite its hodgepodge nature, one thing is clear—its ultimate intent is to destroy public education in the state by slamming a fist down on students, public schools, and their teachers while propping up a wild and largely unaccountable privatized system.




Yesterday, both houses of the Virginia Legislature rejected Education Savings Accounts, aka Education Scam Accounts.

The Virginia Mercury reported:

All four bills put forward by Republicans this year to let parents use state education funding to cover the costs of educational opportunities outside the public school system failed to make it through this year’s General Assembly.

One bill carried by Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, died in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Two others carried by Dels. Phillip Scott, R-Spotsylvania, and Marie March, R-Floyd, failed in Republican-controlled House Education subcommittees

The most promising, House Bill 1508 from Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, initially cleared the House Education Committee, which Davis chairs, but ran into trouble later in the legislative process.

That bill, which gained the support of numerous Republicans including Lt.-Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, would have created the Virginia Education Success Account Program, a proposal that would allow parents to set up a savings account funded with state dollars that could be used to cover educational expenses outside public schools in Virginia. Funds could be used for costs like tuition, deposits, fees and textbooks at a private elementary or secondary school in Virginia.

Last month, Davis estimated that an average of $6,303.25 could have been available per student. The program would only have applied to students previously enrolled in public school or who were starting kindergarten or attending first grade for the first time….

Davis said when the bill reached the House Appropriations Committee Friday, he was one vote short of what he needed to pass the legislation and agreed to send it back to the Education Committee in hopes of fast-tracking it through the approvals it still needed. He told the Mercury he considered adding a delayed enactment clause to the proposal to skirt concerns about the current budget cycle but said the committee was “one day short” of exercising that option.

But that bill died in committee.

Democrats opposed all of these measures, because they would take funding away from public schools.

Now that Florida is a red state, the legislature plans to offer vouchers to every student. The legislators expect to do maximum damage to public schools, which will inexorably lose funding and students. Nothing has been said about how to pay for the proposal. Voucher schools in the state are mostly religious and are completely unregulated. Neither their principals nor their teachers need to be credentialed. They are also free to discriminate on any grounds.

The Miami Herald reports:

Florida Republican lawmakers this year will consider offering every K-12 student thousands of dollars each year for their families to spend on education.

Parents would have access to state-funded accounts and use them to pay for private school tuition plus a wide variety of school-related expenses.

The proposal, if approved, would make the state’s school voucher program bigger than ever. But one key fact about the pitch remains elusive: its cost. It could total billions of dollars.

House Speaker Paul Renner said last week he plans to make the proposal, House Bill 1, a priority during the annual legislative session, which starts March 7.

The measure is already being fast-tracked. It will have its first committee hearing Thursday morning in Tallahassee.

So far, the measure carries no financial impact statement. That’s despite the knowledge that hundreds of thousands more children would be eligible for annual payments of about $8,000 each.

The cost, according to the staff analysis, is “indeterminate.” And that “is not reasonable,” said Norín Dollard, a senior research analyst at Florida Policy Institute, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on quality of life issues for Floridians. The group issued a report on voucher funding in September.


About 266,000 Florida children attend private schools without using any current state scholarship or voucher, Dollard notes. All would be eligible for education savings accounts under the proposal. In addition, approximately 150,000 children receive home schooling.

HB 1 would provide accounts to as many as 10,000 of them in the first year, with more to come in following years. Conservative back-of-the-napkin math suggests that if just 25% of the newly eligible students participate, and those currently in the program remain, the added cost would reach $600 million, Dollard said.

As participation grows, the total could approach $4 billion or more within five years, she added. If that’s the policy decision in leadership, so be it, Dollard said. But it needs to be funded somehow.


State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, focused on that issue during a hastily called Monday evening Zoom meeting to discuss the measure with public education advocates.“

“We have very, very serious concerns,” Eskamani said during an interview. “This is an annual shift of money. Where is it coming from?”

When unveiling the measure at a news briefing, Renner said it was too early to know how much money might be needed. Much depends on how many children want to avail themselves of the vouchers, he said, and where the Legislature sets per-student funding for the year.

At the same time, Renner stressed his goal is to further open school choice so “no one is left out.” The bill would eliminate most eligibility restrictions, though it would prioritize children whose family income is at or below 185% of the federal poverty level — or $55,500 for a family of four.

It also would broaden uses of the money beyond private school tuition to include education expenses such as tutoring, testing and college courses. It would allow students to bank up to $24,000 for those uses, and further permit children already attending private schools without state support to request a share of the funds.

“To effectively deliver a quality education, policy makers and education advocates must accept that every student has unique learning needs, that education dollars belong to the student and not a system, and that public school choice offers every student an opportunity to customize their own education,” Renner said Tuesday, when asked about the associated costs.


Dollard and others said they anticipate wide interest in participation, with much of it coming from families already paying for private schools. In Arizona, which has a similar education savings account program, the state reported 80% of applicants never attended public schools.

That flips the idea of money following the student on its head, Dollard suggested, because those students never had their education covered by state money in the first place.

School district finance officers said they understood the leadership’s position that the details aren’t firm enough to know the full financial impact.

But using the state’s most recent voucher expansion plan as a guide, they had concerns that this initiative would take money away from district budgets and leave them little ability to plan.

That’s what happened the last time the state expanded vouchers in 2021 with the taxpayer-funded Family Empowerment Scholarship. Officials touted the program as adding $200 million for vouchers, allowing 61,000 more children to afford private school.

Districts saw some money go out the door, but nothing like what happened in 2022. Halfway through the 2021-22 school year, school budget officers across the state learned that three times the amount of money they had set aside to send to voucher programs would be required, based on updated attendance figures from the state.

In some counties, such as Pasco, efforts to provide employee raises were derailed as the money officials expected to use was diverted to the vouchers. All told, the cost had grown to $1 billion.

The current year has provided similar sticker shock. The Legislature approved a budget with no specific amount set for the scholarships. By the second education funding calculation in July, the price tag had increased to $1.3 billion.

That meant the Miami-Dade County school district would have to send $225 million from its budget to the voucher program, for example, and the Hillsborough County school district would send $75 million.

When the third calculation came out this week, districts learned they would be losing even more. If the state lifts the eligibility restrictions, Pinellas County Schools chief finance officer Kevin Smith predicted, it will become even more difficult to predict the financial impact.

He suggested the state should at least consider taking the money out of the public education funding program and create a separate line item.

That way, schools would know what to expect and they could budget appropriately. In recent years, the DeSantis administration has taken the position that unexpected changes in enrollment can pose a financial strain on local school districts.

Read more at:

Gary Rayno writes in InDepth NH about a Democratic proposal to put the State Department of Education in charge of the voucher program. Called “Education Freedom Accounts, the program was sold as a way to help low-income students in bad public schools transfer to better private schools. But about 75% of the students getting voucher money were already enrolled in private and religious schools. The free-market State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut (who home-schooled his own children) projected that the program would cost $3.3 million, but it has actually cost $27 million in its two years of operation. Edelblut promised it would cut property taxes, but the cost of the program is projected to grow.

Rayno writes:

CONCORD — Several lawmakers seek changes to the new Education Freedom Account program with a package of bills addressing issues raised in its first two years of operation.

The program was included in the state’s two-year operating budget passed in 2021, and has been significantly over budget projections with more students than anticipated and what many view as insufficient oversight.

“It is hard to have oversight,” said the prime sponsor of House Bill 626, Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton, “when you don’t have transparency, when you don’t have the data to look at.”

The bill, which had a public hearing Wednesday before the House Education Committee, would have the Department of Education administer and manage the program instead of the Children’s Scholarship Fund NH, which receives 10 percent of the program’s grant distribution under its contract with the state. The organization’s no-bid contract was approved by the Executive Council soon after the program was approved in the state’s operating budget.

The program allows the money parents receive to roll-over from year to year, unless the amount exceeds what would be a quarterly payment.

If the student graduates, leaves the freedom account program or is removed from the program for misuse of funds, the parents would be required to return any excess money to the Education Trust Fund under the bill.

The bill would also require students in the program to take one of the statewide assessment tests required of public school students as a comparison of how well the students in the program are doing, Luneau said.

Luneau and other supporters of the change say the program needs more oversight, accountability and transparency given the millions of dollars being distributed to parents.

The state has spent about $27 million during the first two years of the program, well above the $3.3 million budget Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut projected would be the cost.

He asked for $30 million each year of the next biennial budget in requests to the Governor’s Office.

Luneau told the committee that is $90 million in the first four years of the program coming out of the Education Trust Fund, and $9 million of it going to the scholarship fund.

He said he believes with added staff, the department could manage and administer the program for much less money and have the data needed for better accountability, transparency and assessment.

Why use tax dollars to pay the overhead of a private company, when you are already paying the department to oversee kids’ education in the state, Luneau said.

To date, about 75 percent of the funds for the program have gone as subsidies to parents of students who were enrolled in private or religious schools prior to the program’s start.

Of the 3,000 students in the program this year, about 700 attended a public school the year before.

Luneau said the reports include the kids who were in private and religious schools before the program began to show how successful it is, but that is not saving any taxpayers money but is using money from the Education Trust Fund.

Luneau is prime sponsor of another bill prohibiting using the money as a subsidy for private or religious school tuition.

Supporters of the program sold it as a way for lower income parents to afford to find the best education opportunities for their students while saving property tax dollars for taxpayers.

Luneau said taxpayers who fund public schools receive a great deal more accountability, oversight and transparency of their tax dollars than they do in the freedom account program, adding the reports the scholarship fund has provided are laughable; they are so incomplete.

The view of Republican legislators is that parents alone offer accountability. If they don’t like the program, they will leave it. Since 3/4 of them are already enrolled in private and religious schools, they should be overjoyed that the taxpayers are underwriting the cost.

Open the link and read the rest of the article.

The Mississippi Free Press is a fearless news outlet that takes on controversial topics and also highlights news and culture in the nation’s poorest state. At the beginning of last year, it ran a three-part series on Christian Dominionism, which has a strong foothold in the state. The Dominionists promoted the abortion law that led to the reversal of Roe v. Wade. But their fight to outlaw abortion is only one aspect of their agenda. Their goal is to change every aspect of the law and society to conform to their view of Christian rule. As part of their mission, they seek to eliminate public schools, which they consider godless. Their goal is to make the United States a Christian nation. They were thrilled by Trump’s appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The following excerpt is drawn from part one of a three-part series. I’m posting only twice today so you will take the time to read this important article in full.

Staff writer Ashton Pittman wrote:

Alliance Defending Freedom’s founders included Mississippian Don Wildmon, who also founded the Tupelo-based American Family Association. Wildmon and the others in the group of nearly three dozen conservative Christians who launched the organization in 1993 as the Alliance Defense Fund envisioned it as a counter to the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposed overt efforts to mix religion and government and was known for its support of abortion rights and the rights of sexual minorities..

Six years after launching, the ADF created The Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a Christian summer training program for up-and-coming attorneys. In the ADF’s 2000 tax filings, the organization explained that the Blackstone program “provides cutting-edge legal education” and also offers attorneys access to “up-to-date developments in the areas of religious liberties, the sanctity of human life, and traditional family values.”

“As a rigorous internship for exceptionally capable and highly motivated law students, the Blackstone Fellowship inspires a distinctly Christian worldview in every area of law, and particularly in the areas of public policy and religious liberty,” the ADF’s IRS tax filings say.

“With this ongoing program, it’s ADF’s goal to train a new generation of lawyers who will rise to positions of influence and leadership as legal scholars, litigators, judges-and perhaps even Supreme Court judges—who will work to ensure that justice is carried out in America’s courtrooms.”

The ADF’s description of itself in those tax filings is emblematic of “full-blown” Christian dominionist thought, Frederick Clarkson told the Mississippi Free Press on Dec. 3, 2021. He is a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, a Boston-area think tank that monitors anti-democratic movements and ideologies including Christian dominionism and white nationalism.

“That’s the idea that conservative Christians should be dominating every aspect of society,” he explained. Adherents to dominionism often talk about a “biblical worldview” or talk about “building the kingdom,” he added.

Christian dominionism is a religious and political movement that began in earnest during the 20th century and includes a cross-section of various denominations. Many who subscribe to it do not self-identify as dominionists, though, Clarkson noted.

“Not everyone is going to say, ‘Hey, I’m a dominionist. I’m all about theocracy.’ Not many people are going to say that, but this body of theological thought has been percolating throughout the evangelical world for decades,” he said. “If you think that America should be a Christian nation, well, what should that look like? And that’s where the dominionist agenda comes in. It’s not just any conservative thinking.”

Dominionist goals reach far beyond abortion, he said.

“While abortion and Roe and Dobbs are what we’re looking at in the heat of the moment, this is just one battle in a larger war for the world,” Clarkson said….

Taking Control of ‘Seven Mountains’

The New Apostolic Reformation dates back to C. Peter Wagner, who began preaching in the 1950s and died in 2016. He taught that God had begun preparing the world for a “third great awakening” that would sweep the earth before the apocalyptic events foretold in the Book of Revelation take place.

As part of this awakening, Wagner taught, Christians would take dominion over the “seven mountains” or “seven spheres” of cultural influence: family, religion, education, business, government, media and the arts. (Some adherents of the belief, known as “seven mountains dominionism,” instead combine media and arts into a single category and add the military as the seventh “mountain”). Top Mississippi state officials, including Gov. Tate Reeves, attended a prayer event in May 2021 hosted by an organization that openly adheres to “seven mountains” beliefs….

While Calvinism tends toward an intellectual approach to religion and theology, Pentecostalism, which includes hundreds of denominations and independent, non-denominational churches, is much more experientially oriented. Unlike Calvinists, Pentecostals believe in the modern occurrence of spiritual “gifts” such as prophecy, speaking in tongues and supernatural healing.

Despite their differences, including the timeline for Christian dominionism, Reconstructionists and Pentecostals held a series of dialogues throughout the late 20th century to flesh out a common set of goals and principles.

After one series of Reconstructionist-Pentecostal dialogues in Dallas in 1987, Clarkson notes, Christian Reconstructionist pastor Joseph Morecraft declared that “God is blending Presbyterian theology with Charismatic zeal into a force that cannot be stopped.” (“Pentecostal” and “Charismatic” are often used interchangeably or to describe largely overlapping Christian sects that believe in spiritual gifts).

Those dialogues, Clarkson told the Mississippi Free Press, shaped the modern dominionist movement and much of 21st-century American politics.

“That opened the door to political action that brought about the Christian Right that we see today,” Clarkson said.

“So as elements of Pentecostalism adopted these ideas, then we began to see what we now call the New Apostolic Reformation, and they were able to package it in a way where you didn’t have to have a P.h.D. In theology to understand. So they talked about simply dividing up all of society.

“They said, well, there’s seven main sections of society, and you need to figure out which ‘mountain’ you need to be a part of trying to conquer in order to build the kingdom of God. Really smart marketing. That’s what we’re talking about here.”

In his 2008 book, “Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World,” Wagner, the NAR and Seven Mountains theology pioneer, put it simply: “We have an assignment from God to take dominion and transform society.”

‘The Battle To Take The Land’

Like Engle, Alliance Defending Freedom’s CEO and general counsel Michael Farris has long sought to use the levers of society to establish Christ’s kingdom on earth. He founded the Home School Legal Defense Association, an ADF affiliate that has spent years lobbying state governments to make it easier for Christian parents to homeschool their children. (Rushdoony emphasized the necessity of Christian homeschooling to equip future generations for Christian dominion).

In the first chapter of his 2005 book, “The Joshua Generation: Restoring the Heritage of Christian Leadership,” Farris made a bold claim: “I have met countless future senators, governors, presidents, and Supreme Court justices.” He was describing his meetings with parents of homeschooled children, where he says “dreams of generational greatness burn brightly.”

“These moms and dads truly believe that their children are called to be the leaders of the future. … They believe that their own children, in many cases, have unusually high prospects for being particular people who will rise to the top levels of government, law, journalism, media, religion, art, business, and science,” he wrote, referring to the seven mountains Wagner taught. “I think they are absolutely right.”

In the book, Farris explained that the point of advocating for homeschooling rights in state legislatures was never simply about homeschooling itself.

“While those battles are important and will always continue to some degree, homeschool freedom is not the end goal. It is a means to a far greater end,” Farris wrote. The Christian homeschool movement can judge its long-term success, he said, by evaluating their results against a passage in the Book of Hebrews that describes godly heroes “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames … and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”

The end goal of the Christian homeschooling movement, he said, was to raise a generation of children who would do those very things in the “Christian assignment of redeeming the culture.”

“How should we judge our success? … Do we see our children administering justice, gaining what was promised, shutting the mouths of lions, and quenching the fury of the flames? … Have they become powerful in battle?”

Public Schools ‘Essentially Satanic’

Farris and others like him, Clarkson said, fear that sending children to public schools is the same as “turning them over to institutions that are essentially Satanic and teaching children things that are not only non-Christian, but anti-Christian.”

“The idea of Christianizing schools or taking these children out of the public schools and into private Christian academies or homeschool has been in the works for a long time,” he said. “They managed to get right-to-homeschool as part of the Republican platform under Reagan in the 1980s. This has been a long-term process.”

Farris is now CEO and general counsel of ADF.

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett gave lectures at ADF’s Blackstone training program for future lawyers.

In its 2000 tax filings, the ADF explained that once fellows complete the Blackstone program, they will have “caught a vision for how God can use them as judges, law professors, and practicing attorneys to help keep the door open for the spread of the gospel in America.”

The ADF also said in the filings that it had “effectively equipped attorneys to battle the homosexual agenda, defend parental rights, and protect religious freedom” with a separate training program known as the National Litigation Academy.

The founders of this nation wrote a Constitution to govern the new nation. They did not say it would be a “Christian nation.” They specifically barred any religious tests for holding office. There are many religions in this nation, as well as atheists. The Dominionists threaten the freedoms of all those who do not share their views.

I urge you to send a contribution to the Mississippi Free Press to help them continue the important work they do. I sent them $100, my second contribution to help sustain their wonderful voice in Mississippi.

Florida has one of the largest voucher programs in the nation, and Republicans expect to make the program even larger. With a large majority in both houses and a choice-friendly governor, they will push their bill through with little or no resistance. Florida’s voucher schools are not required to hire certified teachers; their students do not take state tests. Although accountability was a major thrust of the Florida “reforms,” voucher schools are exempt from any accountability. Most are religious schools.

The Miami Herald reported:

Florida’s school voucher program could see a major expansion under new legislation filed Thursday by House Republicans. Standing at a lectern with a sign reading “Your Kids, Your Choice,” House Speaker Paul Renner introduced House Bill 1 to make vouchers available to all Florida children eligible to enter kindergarten through 12th grade. Children from families with incomes up to 185% of the federal poverty level, which is $55,500 plus $9,509 for each additional family member, would continue to get priority for the funding. Children in foster care also would receive priority.

The bill would allow voucher recipients to use the public funds for more than tuition at a private school and transportation, as is currently in law. Families would be allowed to spend the money on home-schooling, college courses, private tutoring and specialized testing such as Advanced Placement exams, among other expenses.

Students may not be in public school to qualify for a voucher, which is the equivalent of per-student funding in a public school — currently about $8,216 per year.

Families would receive the money through state-funded education savings accounts, a longtime goal for Florida Republicans. “It’s about freedom and opportunity,” Renner, R-Palm Coast, said during his news conference. “We empower parents and children to decide the education that meets their needs.”

State Rep. Kaylee Tuck, chairperson of the House Choice and Innovation subcommittee, is carrying the bill. The Lake Placid Republican said the measure should allow families to customize education for their children.

Renner predicted broad bipartisan support for the bill, which he said also should clear the waiting list for students with special education needs to receive a state scholarship. Currently about 9,400 children are on that list, according to Renner’s staff.


House Democratic Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell disagreed with Renner’s comments regarding support for the bill. She called it a “defunding of public education” and said she expected most members of her party to oppose it. “There is nothing in this bill that I like, because we continue to take these public dollars and use them for private purposes,” Driskell, D-Tampa, said.

Other Democrats attending a news conference to counter the Republicans’ announcement held similar views. They said they support vouchers for students who need special services, and agreed that parents deserve choices — including within the public schools, which 2.9 million children attend.

“Let’s not defund one institution to fund another one,” said Rep. Felicia Robinson, D-Miami Gardens, who also called for more accountability in the voucher system. Schools that accept vouchers should at least have certified teachers, Robinson said.

And parents who accept funding should have to prove the money is going toward approved education services, added Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville. ”There is no accountability for tracking funds,” said Hinson.

“This might be a get-rich scheme. I’ve seen it all over the country.” Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, referenced her city’s Red Hills Academy, a charter school that closed within weeks of opening last year, citing low enrollment and processing issues, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. ”They got state funding to go create themselves,” Tant said. “Then they turn the kids back to public schools and guess what? They kept the funding.” In Palm Beach County, the founder of one charter school was found profiting off the venture by steering school contracts to companies he owned, according to the Palm Beach Post.


Renner said critics who claim the Republicans are seeking to dismantle public education ignore the fact that the Legislature has put more total dollars into district schools every year, something he said would likely continue. He also pointed to the state’s efforts to improve teacher pay, adding millions of dollars to boost the base salary.

“It’s going to be a good year for our traditional public schools as well,” Renner said.

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