Archives for category: Separation of church and state

Okay, you know that Betsy DeVos, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, is  a billionaire. You know that she wants vouchers. You know that her organization, the American Federation for Children, cheers every victory for school choice as a defeat for public schools.

 

But there is more to know about this activist and funder of the religious right.

 

Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy wrote an article about five things you should know about Betsy DeVos.

 

There is a real question about her fitness to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education in light of her belief in privatization of education. Most of America’s students go to public schools. There have been many state referenda on vouchers, and they have been turned down every time, by large margins. (See Utah results in 2007 here, where vouchers were defeated by 62-38%. In Florida, despite the support of Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee, a voucher measure (called the Religious Freedom Amendment, went down to defeat by 55-45%). She and her husband financed a referendum on vouchers in Michigan in 2000, and it was rejected 69-31%.

 

As Secretary of Education, working with a sympathetic Congress, she might do serious damage to the nation’s public schools. We can’t let that happen. Join the Network for Public Education’s campaign to send emails to senators opposing her nomination.

Politico describes a meeting of wealthy Christians where Betsy and Dick DeVos explained the religious motivation behind their dedication to school vouchers. 

 

 

The billionaire philanthropist whom Donald Trump has tapped to lead the Education Department once compared her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to “advance God’s Kingdom.”

 

Trump’s pick, Betsy DeVos, a national leader of the school choice movement, has pursued that work in large part by spending millions to promote the use of taxpayer dollars on private and religious schools.
Her comments came during a 2001 meeting of “The Gathering,” an annual conference of some of the country’s wealthiest Christians. DeVos and her husband, Dick, were interviewed a year after voters rejected a Michigan ballot initiative to change the state’s constitution to allow public money to be spent on private and religious schools, which the DeVoses had backed.

 

In the interview, an audio recording, which was obtained by POLITICO, the couple is candid about how their Christian faith drives their efforts to reform American education.

 

School choice, they say, leads to “greater Kingdom gain.” The two also lament that public schools have “displaced” the Church as the center of communities, and they cite school choice as a way to reverse that troubling trend.

 

The audio from the private gathering, though 15 years old, offers a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of DeVos’ personal views — views that may guide her decision-making as the nation’s top education official. DeVos has repeatedly said she wants policies that give families choices about their children’s education — the choice of public schools included — but her critics fear that her goal is to shift public funding from already beleaguered traditional public schools to private and religious schools.

 

Remember the idea of separation of church and state, which Thomas Jefferson championed? The DeVos family does not accept that principle.

 

 

 

Edd Doerr is the president of Americans for Religious Liberty and a strong proponent of separation of church and state. In this paper, he gives a brief overview of the history of this infra, explains why vouchers are a very bad idea, and reviews the 27 state referenda on vouchers or variant on public funds for religious schools.

 

Since his paper was written in 2012, a proposal to amend the Florida state constitution to permit vouchers (called the Religious Freedom Amendment) was defeated in 2012 by 55-45%, despite a vigorous campaign by Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee on its behalf, and despite the deceptive tactic of asking voters whether they support “religious freedom.” This past election, voters in Oklahoma rejected a constitutional amendment that would “have stripped the provision in the state constitution that prevents public money or property from being used to support religion and religious institutions.”

 

Wherever vouchers exist, they have been authorized by state legislatures, never by voters. State legislatures are influenced by political contributions and are easier to manipulate than voters, as Dick and Betsy DeVos learned when their own state voucher proposal in Michigan went down to defeat in 2000.

 

In Doerr’s paper, he shows how voucher advocates ignore the Founding Fathers’ conviction about religious liberty. He cites Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia legislation called “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom.”*

 

Doerr quotes a section of the bill:

 

This Act ended legal compulsion to attend church services and barred tax support for religious institutions. It provide that “no man . . . shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or beliefs, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

 

Doerr goes on to write:

 

While the Constitution drafted in 1787 did not grant the federal government power to deal with religion in any way, it proscribed religious tests for public office, and provided for an affirmation instead of an oath of office. The absence of a specific religious freedom guarantee bothered Jefferson and others. Six states ratified the Constitution but insisted on a religious freedom amendment. Rhode Island and North Carolina declined to ratify it until a bill of rights was adopted. Shortly after his election to the House of Representatives Madison introduced a compilation of proposals for a bill of rights to be added. Several versions of a religious liberty provision were considered before the following wording of what is now the First Amendment was adopted: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

 

President Jefferson, in a carefully thought-out 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, declared that these words built a “wall of separation between church and state.” Supporters of church-state separation hold that the “no establishment” clause was noted by the Supreme Court as early as 1878, but was best and most succinctly interpreted by the Supreme Court in the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education ruling. The Court stated:

 

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and state’.”

 

So bear in mind as Trump and DeVos and others promote vouchers that would divert money from public schools to religious schools, they are at war not only with voters but with the Founding Fathers.

 

*Doerr cites the wrong date for passage of the bill in Virginia, which was 1779, not 1786.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan released the following statement on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education:

 
Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan, issued the following statement on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education:

 

We strongly urge Congress to scrutinize the record of Betsy DeVos, who has been a staunch proponent of school vouchers, a misguided idea that diverts taxpayer dollars into private and parochial schools and perverts the bedrock American value of separation of church and state. She and her husband served as the primary fundraisers and engine for a Michigan ballot initiative –Kids First! Yes! Coalition that voters soundly rejected in 2000.

 

She has ardently supported the unlimited, unregulated growth of charter schools in Michigan, elevating for-profit schools with no consideration of the severe harm done to traditional public schools. She’s done this despite overwhelming evidence that proves that charters do no better at educating children than traditional public schools and serve only to exacerbate funding problems for cash-strapped public districts. We believe that all children have a right to a quality public education, and we fear that Betsy DeVos’ relentless advocacy of charter schools and vouchers betrays these principles.

In the annual fight in Texas over school vouchers, one of the strongest, most consistent defenders of public schools is an influential group known as zpastors for Texas Children. They believe in the importance of public education as a democratic right and they strongly support the separation of church and state.

At recent legislative hearings in Austin, their executive director Charles Foster Johnson testified against a voucher bill that was passed in the State Senate. This battle occurs every year. Thus far, a coalition of rural Republicans and urban Democrats has managed to defeat vouchers in the House. Pastor Johnson and his colleagues have been a powerful group in staving off privatization.

[If you want to watch Pastor Johnson’s testimony, which was “from the heart,” and diverged from his written statement, watch here:

[Start the video at the 3:50 mark– that’s 3 HOURS and 50 MINUTES– move the cursor just shy of the left side of the middle. http://tlchouse.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=37&clip_id=12360 ]

Testimony Before House Public Education Committee

By Charles Foster Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children

October 17, 2016

Chairman Aycock, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you and your committee today about what we have witnessed in our fine neighborhood and community public schools throughout our great State. My name is Charles Johnson, pastor of Bread Fellowship, Fort Worth. I am also executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, a statewide organization mobilizing the faith community for public education support and advocacy. We do two things: we minister to children in our local schools and we advocate for just policy for our children with our legislators. We were birthed out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas three years ago and now have over 1900 faith leaders of all denominations in churches all across Texas.

We are in our schools every day and see children from every ethnicity, every socio-economic background, and all walks of life succeeding beautifully on their path to productive citizenship in our society. We see children discovering their God-given talent and giftedness at the hands of dedicated teachers answering the call of God to pursue careers as educators. We witness daily the sheer moral power of public education as a building block of our society. This is why we are compelled to deliver the message to whoever will listen that universal public education is God’s will for all people—not a “choice” accorded to a few through a school choice voucher. I’d like to share several reasons why:

Public education is a moral duty. Education is a gift of God for all people. Just like the first human did in the Bible story so long ago, every person gets to name God’s world. Just as God brought all the creatures to the human to see what he would name them, so classroom teachers in schools all across our land teach our children to name God’s world. It’s the only way we can fulfill the first commandment of God to “be fruitful and multiply, replenish the earth and subdue it.” Education is a core component of the public interest. It is God’s common good for all God’s children—not just for those who are smart and stable and economically secure enough to pay for it with a school choice voucher.

Public education is a democratic duty. The founders of this nation determined at the outset of our Republic that in order to have a democratic society, we must educate all our children—not just a few children from families affluent enough to pay for it. Public education is a cornerstone of our American way of life. It is what has made America great. Our neighborhood and community schools are the places where our American history is taught, where our children learn basic civics, where the Pledge of Allegiance is said every day, where citizens are made. In America, citizenship is for all people—not just those few fortunate enough to be chosen by a school choice voucher.

Public education is a societal duty. It is incorrect for some of our friends to say that the money should follow the child because it is “my money.” With all due respect, it is not “my money” in a just society. We have a responsibility to participate in the well-being of all people. Do I get to have my own private security guard subsidized by the public through a “safety choice voucher?” Do I get to have my private swimming pool underwritten by the people of Texas because I don’t use the public pool? In a just and equal society, do I get a “transportation voucher” because I walk or ride a bicycle? The love of neighbor has founded our social order in these United States. We practice that love of neighbor through our taxation to support investments in that societal infrastructure.

Public education is a constitutional duty. The Constitution of the State of Texas says this in Article 7, Section 1: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” The members of this legislative body swore a Bible oath to uphold that provision. There is zero authorization for this body to do anything with private schools.

Public education is a spiritual duty. We believe wholeheartedly in religious liberty as a gift of God from all people. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison did not make it up. It is the principle upon which our nation is founded. So, we affirm that no overt religious instruction or activity should be advanced or established with tax dollars in our public schools. All faith is voluntary. It belongs in the home and the church—not in our public institutions. This government has no authority to advance religion in our public schools. Nor, on the other hand, does this government have any authority to meddle in our private and home schools through a school choice voucher. Any money that is diverted from the public trust to a private entity will be publically accounted for, thus inserting and intruding government into the voluntary associations of religious schools. God does not need Caesar’s money to do the Lord’s work. Never has. Never will.

But, faithful teachers take the love of God with them into our classrooms each and every day, ministering long hours at low pay while serving the poorest children in our midst. They instill moral character. They teach respect across the wide diversity of our population. They show unconditional love to all kids. They do this because they are called before God. This is why the dynamics that govern our capitalistic system do not operate in an educational environment. Market forces such as competition and cost benefit analysis simply do not apply in the formation of a human being. A classroom is a holy place of learning—not a marketplace of financial gain. To make commodities of our kids and markets of our classrooms is to misunderstand—and profane—the spirituality of education.

PO Box 471155 – Fort Worth, Texas 76147
http://www.pastorsfortexaschildren.com

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, former talk show host, really wants vouchers for the millions of students in Texas. Fortunately, he has been defeated year after year by a coalition of rural Tepublicans and urban Democrats.

The battle is on again this year. Patrick and his fellow ideological zealots are headed for a showdown on the issue. There is no evidence that vouchers “work,” and much evidence that they don’t. In a state like Texas, the voucher proposal is strongly opposed by a brave group called Pastors for Texas Children. (Make a donation if you can to help them.)

Supporters of vouchers insist that the schools that receive public funds should be exempt from state tests or any other accountability measures, which might limit their “freedom.”

“A bipartisan group of state representatives hammered private school choice proponents at a heated legislative hearing on Monday, signaling an enduring uphill battle in the Texas House for proposals that would use taxpayer dollars to help parents send their kids to private or parochial schools, or educate them at home.

“Rural Republicans and Democrats in the lower chamber have long blocked such programs — often referred to in sweeping terms as “private school vouchers,” although there are variations. Passing one has emerged as a top priority in the Texas Senate for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who unsuccessfully pushed a private school choice program when he was a Republican state senator from Houston and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.”

Of course, the proposal for vouchers is a pathetic excuse for failing to restore the $5 billion cut to the public schools in 2011.

http://www.fixthemitten.com/blog/do-cornerstones-religious-charter-schools-have-a-separate-existence

A businessman named Clark Durant founded private schools and charters schools in Michigan.

The private schools are religious.

But this blogger says that it is hard to tell the difference.

Michigan’s state constitution specifically prohibits public funding of religious schools.

But:

Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press has penned a glowing column about Cornerstone Schools. In the piece, Henderson writes about Cornerstone’s private schools and charter schools. He explains that businessman Clark Durant founded Cornerstone Schools 25 years ago; he describes the schools’ history and growth. He portrays Cornerstone Schools as constantly improving. He emphasizes that Durant recently reassigned a particularly effective principal from Cornerstone’s private high school to one of Cornerstone’s charter schools.

I’m sure Cornerstone provides a satisfactory education for many children — in both its private and charter schools. That’s not the problem. The problem is that it can be difficult to tell the difference.

Try a Google search for “Cornerstone Schools Detroit” sometime. Then check out the results. Are you looking at the website for Cornerstone’s private, religious schools? Or are you on the website for its charter schools? Can you tell?

Sure, you’ll notice that Cornerstone’s religious schools are headquartered at 6861 Nevada on Detroit’s east side. By contrast, Cornerstone’s charter schools are based at a location in Royal Oak. The private schools and charter schools have different telephone numbers, and their websites list different media contacts.

But they also share many similarities. The boards of directors have members in common, including Durant, Oakland Circuit Judge Michael Warren, and attorney John R. Nicholson. Both websites state, “We see transformed lives, for good; and a new city for all.” And both sites reference Cornerstone’s “Christ-centered” beginnings.

Christ-centered? Yes. You read that correctly. Unlike Cornerstone’s private schools website, the charter schools site does not explicitly mention “Jesus.” Nevertheless, the religious undertones are present if you know where to look. Under “The Cornerstone Charter Schools Story,” beneath the subtitle “Read More About Our History,” the website specifically recounts how Cardinal Adam Maida once “asked the community to help build cornerstones for the city,” and makes clear that Cornerstone’s charters grew out of “a Christ-centered schooling alternative . . . .”

With so much overlap between Cornerstone’s private and charter schools, one has to wonder whether the charter schools are simply an alter ego for the private schools. They certainly appear to be two sides of the same coin. Do they have separate identities? Or are they so closely related that they make up a single unit? One founder. Common directors. The free transfer of employees between the two. Similar websites. Identical mission statements. These factors strongly suggest a unity of purpose, and provide at least some evidence that one entity is a mere instrumentality of the other.

Since reformers are agnostic about public schools, they see no reason to distinguish between their “public” charter schools and their religious schools. Does the state constitution say it can’t be done. Ignore it.

WA reader anonymously named Substitute Tracher posted this comment:

 

 

“The Broward County School Board chair at the Calvary Chapel. At 50:45 she says,

 

 

“God has really blessed me this year that a lot of my principals were transitioned out, and he filled those spots with new principals that were saved. Principals that loved the lord.”

 

 

Are we really allowed to have a criterion in public schools that principals have to be saved before giving them a job? Won’t need vouchers if that is the case.

 

 

Note: The previous pastor of this church resigned after it was disclosed he was committing adultery.

In this article, Jeff Bryant explains why vouchers are a terrible idea. After a quarter century of vouchers in Milwaukee, there is no evidence that students in voucher schools get higher test scores. But worse, most students who get vouchers use them in religious schools, violating the long established principle of separation of church and state.

 

Bryant writes:

 

“All research shows that most of the money voucher programs redirect from public schools to private institutions ends up going to religious schools. In D.C., 80 percent of voucher users attend religion-based private schools. North Carolina’s relatively new voucher program sends 93 percent of it money to “faith-based schools.”

 

“Due to voucher programs, in all their forms, “religious schools actually are receiving large amounts of government money,” David Berliner and Gene Glass explain in their book Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools.

 

“Berliner and Glass explain how, through various workarounds approved by ideologically driven courts, many states have reversed historical precedent to ensure the public is unwittingly funding religious-based instruction. In Arizona, a tuition tax credit program ensures that people and corporations who donate to a fund for private, mostly religious, schools can take that donation off their taxes, which decreases the amount of money the state has to spend on public services. In Ohio, government funds pay directly for parents’ tuition payments in private schools, most of which are religion-based. In New Jersey, the governor enjoys a special set-aside of $11 million for two religious schools in the state.

 

“In most of these cases, the majority of the students receiving voucher money were already previously enrolled in religious schools. So much for “opening promising new pathways” in the public school system.

 

“Voucher programs that redirect money to private religious schools are in clear violation of the federal Constitution’s establishment clause and state constitutions’ Blaine Amendment language, but the programs continue to proliferate and expand nevertheless.

 

“This Should Alarm Every American

 

“As Berliner and Glass explain, “Diversion of existing public schools resources to private schools results in taxpayer support for all kinds of religious instruction at all kinds of religious schools, with little or no oversight by states or the public.”

 

“That means public tax dollars are funding religion based curriculum that teach, for instance, a creationist view of science or a version of history that portrays slaves as happy servants to their masters.

 

“Curriculum materials that depict people of color in demeaning, stereotypical ways that have created such consternation in public schools can be readily adopted for private schools using vouchers. And how many schools getting voucher funding will choose a right-wing version of history that teaches the founders of the nation never intended the separation of church and state but sought instead to construct a Christian theocracy?

 

“Voucher proponents claim all of this is fine because parents have “made the choice.” But shouldn’t we have a choice about whether or not we fund this?”

 

 

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the determination of North Carolina’s Tea-Party dominated legislature to allow charters, including for-profit ones, to take over low-scoring schools, a proposal modeled on Tennessee’s Achievement School District. My post was a refutation of an editorial in the Charlotte Observer, which endorsed the idea of using the ASD as a model for North Carolina. My post was titled “North Carolina: Yes, Let’s Copy a Failed Experiment.” Pamela Grundy, a public school champion in North Carolina, also complained to the newspaper and proposed that NC should try reducing class sizes.

 

The author of the editorial, Peter St. Onge, is associate editor of the editorial pages. He didn’t like my post at all. He says that the Tennessee ASD has not failed; it hasn’t had enough time. This follows on a Vanderbilt report about the ASD that concluded the program had “little or no effect” on student achievement. (Here is the link to the report.) NPR summarized the finding of the Vanderbilt study thus:

 

While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.

 

St. Onge says the Vanderbilt study didn’t say the experiment failed, it just hasn’t succeeded yet. That is true. The Vanderbilt study did not propose closing down the ASD; it said reform takes years. But please recall that Chris Barbic, who led the ASD, said he could turn around the lowest-performing schools in five years and make them among the state’s highest-performing schools. Clearly that will not happen. Of course, a child attends an elementary school for only four-six years, so they can’t wait ten years. So if we take the original promise of the ASD, it will fail to reach its goal of turning low-performing schools into high-performing schools in five years.

 

One of the lead researchers in the Vanderbilt study, Professor Gary Henry, was in North Carolina this week, where he spoke to a public policy forum. The legislature happened to be holding hearings on the NC version of ASD, but Professor Henry was not invited to testify. Why didn’t the legislature want to hear from him? He told the forum that the model sponsored by the public schools, called the iZone, had significant improvements, but the ASD did not. He said the study was based on only three years of data, so cautioned not to jump to conclusions.

 

So, yes, Peter St. Onge is right. It is too soon to declare the ASD a failure. But it is certainly not a success. Usually, when you look to copy a model tried elsewhere, you copy a successful model. Why should the state of North Carolina copy a model that has thus far shown little to no significant effects and has not shown success? A track record like that of the ASD does not lend itself to being called “a model.” A model for what? For throwing millions into an experiment that alienates parents and communities and after three years has little to no effect on student achievement?

 

When Chris Barbic resigned as leader of the ASD, following a heart attack, he made a statement boasting about gains that included this interesting observation:

 

Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.

 

This is a sage observation. A brand new charter school can choose its students. Even with a lottery, the families are applying and informed and motivated. That is very different from taking over a neighborhood school, where parents resent that their school was “taken over” by outsiders without their consent. Charter schools have been notoriously unsuccessful at taking over neighborhood schools. KIPP, for example, took over Cole Middle School in Denver, and abandoned it a few years later. KIPP claimed it couldn’t find “the right leader,” but the reality is what Barbic said. It is much harder to take over an existing school than to start a new charter.

 

The Charlotte Observer, or more accurately, Mr. St. Onge, scorns those he calls “public education advocates” as if all those in favor of the model in which the public is responsible for the education of all children are self-interested and impervious to evidence. I think it is fair to say that in the North Carolina climate, those who promote charters are self-interested and impervious to evidence. The charter operators are in many cases operating for-profit, which is certainly not the motive of public education advocates. Those who claim that the ASD is a worthy model for North Carolina, despite its lack of success, are impervious to evidence.

 

If you can’t call the ASD a failure, you surely can’t call it a success. As the subtitle of the editorial states, “Judging Should Be Based on What Works.” We agree. Children should not be subjected to experiments that do not have a track record of success. Do what works, based on evidence and experience. Reduce class sizes where there is concentrated poverty and segregation; recognize that poverty and segregation are root causes of poor school performance and act to address root causes; make sure there are school nurses and social workers; make sure there is a library; hire experienced teachers, with school aides. Add classes in the arts. Give poor children what all parents want for their children. If you want to see the research base, read my book “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” Or closer to home, call Helen F. Ladd at Duke University and get her advice.