Archives for category: Separation of church and state

Since this post was written in Texas by a Texan, you may have a clue about what these diverse phenomena have in common: They are sources of fear, anxiety, propaganda, and scare tactics used cynically to stir up the passions of voters. The article was written by Dr. Charles Luke of Pastors for Texas Children, a stalwart supporter of public schools.

Dr. Luke writes:

What do masks, library books, critical race theory (CRT), and transgender rights have in common? While this may sound like the beginning of a really bad joke, these are all issues that local school boards across the nation hear about frequently from their constituents. The concerns about these issues aren’t always expressed in the nicest ways, either. In fact, angry expressions over these issues have led to death threats and harassment, leading some school board members to request police protection or to resign their positions. Commonly dubbed “culture war issues” because they are highly politicized, school board disruption has gotten so bad that Saturday Night Live did a skit about it.

In Texas, it’s not just concerned citizens that are complaining. Politicians are cashing in on the fears of their right-wing base by issuing edicts, holding town halls, and leading charges against school districts. State Rep. Matt Krause, Chair of the House Committee on General Investigating, notified the Texas Education Agency that he is “initiating an inquiry into Texas school district content,” according to an article and an Oct. 25 letter obtained by The Texas Tribune. Krause included a list of 850 titles that he believes some people may find objectionable. Krause was then running for Texas Attorney General in a crowded field of candidates but has since dropped out.

Not to be outdone, Gov. Greg Abbott issued his own edict about library books – but to the wrong people. In a November 1, 2021 letter to the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), he reminded the organization that their members have a collective responsibility to determine if obscene materials exist in school libraries and to remove any such content. When TASB Executive Director Dan Troxell informed Governor Abbott that TASB is merely a school trustee membership organization and has no regulatory authority over schools, Abbott responded by accusing the organization of abdicating their responsibility in the matter and directed the Texas Education Agency, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and the State Board of Education to address the issue by developing standards to “prevent the presence of pornography and obscene content in Texas public schools, including in school libraries.”

A rightwing think-tank (the Texans for Public Policy Priorities) has already sent out a fundraising appeal, hoping to raise $1.2 million dollars to institute what they call “massive education freedom reforms” by mobilizing 10,000 citizens in each of 60 legislative swing districts in order to “break the indoctrination of our children from Critical Race Theory, ‘gender fluidity’, and socialism.” TPPF claims to already have one donor that has provided $600,000 (rumored to be Tim Dunn of Empower Texans fame.

Read on to learn about the latest zany tactics of Texas Republicans, who are expert at campaigning on lies and fear.

The right-wingers have a goal: power. The power to destroy public schools and replace them with private alternatives.

These efforts in Texas follow a national push by extremist politics to take over school boards based on allegations that districts are teaching critical race theory. The Center for Renewing America, run by former Trump administration official Russ Vought, distributes a toolkit that encourages conservatives to “reclaim” their schools by taking over local school boards through campaigns focused on opposition to critical race theory. The Leadership Institute offers training on how far-right candidates can take over their school board and runs a program called Campus Reform which encourages students to “expose the leftist abuses on your campus” including the teaching of CRT.

Funded by wealthy donors and far-right-wing foundations, they seem to be having some success in Texas. In places like Cypress-Fairbanks ISD – the third-largest school district in the state – long-term and well-established trustees are being replaced over culture-war wedge issues like CRT. After a controversial “Resolution Condemning Racism” was approved by the board of trustees in September of 2020, Rev. John Ogletree – an African American – was defeated amidst allegations that the district was promoting CRT. Ogletree is the founder and pastor at the First Metropolitan Church in Houston, Texas, and the president of the board of Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) – a statewide public school advocacy group. Ogletree had been a member of the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Board of Trustees since 2003.

Not everyone is silent about the far-right efforts. Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Executive Director of PTC responded to the defeat of Ogletree by saying, “For Godly Christian servants like Rev. John Ogletree to be slandered with lies about his character is beyond outrageous. It is morally despicable. Rev. Ogletree is a faithful pastor who discharged his responsibility before God to call out racism. He did so with obedience and courage. It may come as a news flash to the morally confused folks at TPPF, but it is not racism to call racism for the sin it is: racism.”

According to staff writers for Reform Austin, “This appears to be a nationwide strategy by conservatives to take over school boards and cultivate a farm team of candidates for higher office.” If that’s the case, there could be plenty of opportunities for far-right candidates in 2022 to get elected. With several Texas Senators and over two-dozen House members deciding not to run again due to redistricting maps, the field could be wide open for ultra-conservative candidates launching campaigns on the back of these attacks on public schools.

What the right-wingers really want is to gin up enough anger towards public schools so that people will be willing to seek vouchers and abandon public schools. This might save money, but it would certainly be a nightmare for students and parents who want a quality education. The people stirring this pot against public schools harp on phony issues to advance privatization.

Take Governor Abbott (please). He has been Governor of Texas since 2015. Before that, he was State Attorney General from 2002 to 2015. Before that, he was on the Texas Supreme Court from 1996 to 2001. Is it credible that after 25 years in high public office, he just realized that school libraries are harboring pornography? Why didn’t he know that when he was the State Attorney General, or a member of the Supreme Court, or at some point earlier in his six years as Governor? Why, on the eve of the next gubernatorial election, did he just discover that school libraries are dangerous to young minds? Young minds are undoubtedly safer in the school library than they are at home on the Internet, where there is most certainly hardcore pornography. Will Governor Abbott tell parents to disconnect from the Internet? Of course not.

This whole propaganda campaign is a charade. It is not about making education better. It’s not about protecting youth from corrupting influences.

It is about creating a rationale to distribute public money to religious schools and private vendors.

Texans who want better education must stand up to the charlatans and drive them out of office. School boards elections are scheduled for December 13. Get out and vote for people who believe in education, reason, and thoughtfulness. Vote out the charlatans who want to destroy your schools.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a screed against the very existence of public schools, written by a libertarian lawyer. Imagine teaching in a school where children are allowed to learn only what their parents already believe, no matter how bizarre or hateful it may be. Imagine the difficulty of having a coherent society where there are no compromises, no bonds of mutuality among people of different faiths and ethnicities. The illustration accompanying the article shows the government turning diverse children into identical cookie cutter people. No one today could reasonably argue that the people of the United States, 90% of whom were educated in public schools, have identical views, values, and beliefs. It is Libertarians who would have all of our children molded into clones of their parents and grandparents, with everyone attending schools that narrowly confined them to their own religious, racial, and ethnic enclave. In reality, private sectarian schools are far more likely to “indoctrinate” children than are public schools that include teachers and children from different backgrounds.

Is the Public School System Constitutional?

Education consists mostly in speech, and parents have a right under the First Amendment to exercise authority over what their children hear.

By Philip Hamburger Oct. 22, 2021

ILLUSTRATION: PHIL FOSTER

The public school system weighs on parents. It burdens them not simply with poor teaching and discipline, but with political bias, hostility toward religion, and now even sexual and racial indoctrination. Schools often seek openly to shape the very identity of children. What can parents do about it?

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia, said in a Sept. 28 debate. The National School Boards Association seems to agree: In a Sept. 29 letter to President Biden, its leaders asked for federal intervention to stop “domestic terrorism and hate crimes” against public school officials. Attorney General Merrick Garland obliged, issuing an Oct. 4 memo directing law-enforcement agents and prosecutors to develop “strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”

Mr. Garland’s memo did acknowledge that “spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution.” That is true but doesn’t go nearly far enough. Education is mostly speech, and parents have a constitutional right to choose the speech with which their children will be educated. They therefore cannot constitutionally be compelled, or even pressured, to make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination.

Public education in America has always attempted to homogenize and mold the identity of children. Since its largely nativist beginnings around 1840, public education has been valued for corralling most of the poor and middle class into institutions where their religious and ethnic differences could be ironed out in pursuit of common “American” values.

The goal was not merely a shared civic culture. Well into the 20th century, much of the political support for public schooling was driven by a fear of Catholicism and an ambition to Protestantize Catholic children. Many Catholics and other minorities escaped the indoctrination of their children by sending them to private schools.

Nativists found that intolerable. Beginning around 1920, they organized to force Catholic children into public education. The success of such a measure in Oregon (with Democratic votes and Ku Klux Klan leadership) prompted the Supreme Court to hold compulsory public education unconstitutional.

The case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), was brought by a religious school, not a parent. The justices therefore framed their ruling around the threat to the school’s economic rights. But Pierce says that parents can educate their children outside state schools in accord with the parents’ moral and religious views.

Although the exact nature of this parental freedom is much disputed, it is grounded in the First Amendment. When religious parents claim the freedom, religious liberty seems an especially strong foundation. But the freedom of parents in educating their children belongs to all parents, not only the faithful. Freedom of speech more completely explains this educational liberty.

Education consists mostly in speech to and with children. Parents enjoy freedom of speech in educating their children, whether at home or through private schooling. That is the principle underlying Pierce, and it illuminates our current conundrum.

The public school system, by design, pressures parents to substitute government educational speech for their own. Public education is a benefit tied to an unconstitutional condition. Parents get subsidized education on the condition that they accept government educational speech in lieu of home or private schooling.

There is nothing unconstitutional about taxation in support of government speech. Thus taxpayers have no generic right against public-school messages they find objectionable.

But parents are in a different situation. They aren’t merely subsidizing speech they find objectionable. They are being pushed into accepting government speech for their children in place of their own. Government requires parents to educate their children and offers education free of charge. For most parents, the economic pressure to accept this educational speech in place of their own is nearly irresistible.

To be sure, Pierce doesn’t guarantee private education. It merely acknowledges the right of parents to provide it with their own resources. And one may protest that economic pressure is not force. But the Supreme Court has often ruled otherwise.

Merely denying a government benefit will often suffice to violate a right—as when government refuses a benefit without a hearing (Goldberg v. Kelly, 1970), denies a grant on account of the recipient’s religious beliefs (Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, 2017), or subsidizes a media organization on the condition that it refrain from editorializing (FCC v. League of Women Voters, 1984). Financial pressures clearly count.

When government makes education compulsory and offers it free of charge, it crowds out parental freedom in educational speech. The poorer the parents, the more profound the pressure—and that is by design. Nativists intended to pressure poor and middle-class parents into substituting government educational speech for their own, and their unconstitutional project largely succeeded.

Most parents can’t afford to turn down public schooling. They therefore can’t adopt speech expressive of their own views in educating their children, whether by paying for a private school or dropping out of work to home-school. So they are constrained to adopt government educational speech in place of their own, in violation of the First Amendment.

A long line of Establishment Clause decisions recognize the risk of coercion in public-school messages. In Grand Rapids School District v. Ball (1985), the high court condemned private religious teaching in rooms leased from public schools. “Such indoctrination, if permitted to occur, would have devastating effects on the right of each individual voluntarily to determine what to believe (and what not to believe) free of any coercive pressures from the State,” Justice William Brennan wrote for the majority.

Coercion seemed central in such cases because of the vulnerability of children to indoctrination. Summarizing the court’s jurisprudence, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, concurring in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), observed that “when government-sponsored religious exercises are directed at impressionable children who are required to attend school, . . . government endorsement is much more likely to result in coerced religious beliefs.”

These precedents concern only religion in public schools and the coercive effect on children under the Establishment Clause. But the danger of coerced belief is not confined to official religious speech. Subjecting children to official political, racial, sexual and antireligious speech can be equally coercive. And if public-school messages are so coercive against children, it is especially worrisome that parents are being pressured to adopt public educational speech in place of their own.

Rights are “exceptions” to power, James Madison observed. That is, rights defeat power. But contemporary judicial doctrine allows power to defeat rights—at least when government asserts what is called a compelling interest. One might think that a state’s compelling interest in public education overpowers any parental speech right. Yet because such analysis allows power to subdue rights, it is important to evaluate whether the claimed government interest is really compelling.

The U.S. was founded in an era when almost all schooling was private and religious, and that already suggests that any government interest in public education is neither necessary nor compelling. Further, the idea that public education is a central government interest was popularized by anti-Catholic nativists. Beginning in the mid-19th century, they elevated the public school as a key American institution in their campaign against Catholicism.

In their vision, public schools were essential for inculcating American principles so that children could become independent-minded citizens and thinking voters. The education reformer and politician Horace Mann said that without public schools, American politics would bend toward “those whom ignorance and imbecility have prepared to become slaves.”

That sounds wholesome in the abstract. In practice, it meant that Catholics were mentally enslaved to their priests, and public education was necessary to get to the next generation, imbuing them with Protestant-style ideas so that when they reached adulthood, they would vote more like Protestants.

This goal of shaping future voters gave urgency to the government’s interest in public education. As today, the hope was to liberate children from their parents’ supposedly benighted views and thereby create a different sort of polity. Now as then, this sort of project reeks of prejudice and indoctrination. There is no lawful government interest in displacing the educational speech of parents who don’t hold government-approved views, let alone in altering their children’s identity or creating a government-approved electorate.

The inevitably homogenizing, even indoctrinating, effect of public schools confirms the danger of finding a compelling government interest in them. A 1904 nativist tract grimly declared that the public school is “a great paper mill, into which are cast rags of all kinds and colors, but which lose their special identity and come out white paper, having a common identity. So we want the children of the state, of whatever nationality, color or religion, to pass through this great moral, intellectual and patriotic mill, or transforming process.”

The idea of a common civic culture among children is appealing when it develops voluntarily, but not when state-approved identities and messages are “stamped upon their minds,” as the 1904 tract put it. Far from being a compelling government interest, the project of pressing children into a majority or government mold is a path toward tyranny.

The shared civic culture of 18th-century America was highly civilized, and it developed entirely in private schools. The schools, like the parents who supported them, were diverse in curriculum and their religious outlook, including every shade of Protestantism, plus Judaism, Catholicism, deism and religious indifference.

In their freedom, the 18th-century schools established a common culture. In contrast, public-school coercion has always stimulated division. It was long used to grind down the papalism of Catholic children into something more like Protestantism. Since then, there has been a shift in the beliefs that public schools seek to eradicate. But the schools remain a means by which some Americans force their beliefs on others. That’s why they are still a source of discord. The temptation to indoctrinate the children of others—to impose a common culture by coercion—is an obstacle to working out a genuine common culture.

There is no excuse for maintaining the nativist fiction that public schools are the glue that hold the nation together. They have become the focal point for all that is tearing the nation apart. However good some public schools may be, the system as a whole, being coercive, is a threat to our ability to find common ground. That is the opposite of a compelling government interest.

The public school system therefore is unconstitutional, at least as applied to parents who are pressured to abandon their own educational speech choices and instead adopt the government’s.

Parents should begin by asking judges to recognize—at least in declaratory judgments—that the current system is profoundly unconstitutional. Once that is clear, states will be obliged to figure out solutions. Some may choose to offer tax exemptions for dissenting parents; others may provide vouchers. Either way, states cannot deprive parents of their right to educational speech by pushing children into government schools.

Judges will be reluctant to vindicate the uncomfortable truth that education is mostly speech. Many have assimilated the nativist ideal that public education is a central and compelling government interest. As in 1925, however, the threat to parental speech has become unbearable.

Mr. Hamburger teaches at Columbia Law School and is president of the New Civil Liberties Alliance.

Peter Greene notes that 2021 has been a year of attacks on public education, and he introduces us to an organization that is a little-known but influential player behind the scenes. It has actively sought to destroy teachers unions and to bring Christian beliefs into the classroom. That is, their version of Christian beliefs.

He writes:

The Christian Educators Association is not a new player (you may have heard the name before–we’ll get to that shortly). They were founded as the National Educators Fellowship in 1953 by Dr. Clyde Narramore, an author of over 100 books, most focusing on psychology. He even had a syndicated radio show with his wife Ruth. His shtick was psychology steeped in Christian belief, and he eventually launched and led the Rosemead School of Psychology which has since been folded into Biola University, a private evangelical Christian university in La Mirada, California (we’ll meet them again). Biola was founded as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles by the president of the Union Oil Company of California, based on the model of the Moody Bible Institute, later broadening their programs (including an education department)…

In 1984 they changed the name to Christian Educators Association International, and in 1991, then-leader Forrest Turpen continued restructuring the group to be “an alternative to teachers’ unions, at a time when unions were embracing values more and more hostile to the Biblical worldview.” I was teaching then; I’m not sure what exactly they were upset about (Outcome based education?) Turpen led the group from 1983 till 2003, expanded membership, and went after the secular unions. As always, the mission was unequivocally evangelical; when he died, friends noted his “dogged determination to see the gospel proclaimed to the children of this nation.” After his death, CEAI set up the Forrest Turpen Legacy Grant, asking teachers “Do you dream of impacting your school for Christ?” Grants were awarded for Bibles, tracts, t-shirts, and transportation costs to visit the Ark Encounter, all for various school clubs.

Of one thing you can be certain, the CEAI wanted the schools to be religious. But they also had a political goal: to weaken the teachers’ unions, which they considered godless. CEAI was behind a lawsuit intended to free teachers from any obligation to pay dues. Their plaintiff was Rebecca Friedrichs. She represented teachers who wanted to collect the benefits negotiated by the unions without paying dues. As Greene explains, her case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, but was deadlocked when Justice Scalia died. The next anti-union case, Janus, completed the mission.

Katherine Stewart’s new book The Power Worshippers describes the hostility of evangelical Christians to public schools. I reviewed her book along with two others in the New York Review of Books. One of the most interesting insights in her book is that white evangelicals at first tried to mobilize public opinion to protect the tax-exempt status of segregated private schools and universities. When that didn’t work, they found another issue that did: abortion.

But they have never given up on their goal of public funding for religious schools that were free to discriminate and the elimination of public schools.

Last year, no one mentioned “critical race theory.” This year it has become an all-purpose cudgel with which to bash the public schools.

CRT has been used to accuse the public schools of “indoctrinating” students. Like “indoctrinating” them to believe in human equality, justice, and the dignity of all people? CRT has become a rallying cry for those who say that schools teach “socialism,” which is ridiculous unless you happen to think that programs like Social Security and Medicare are “socialism” (ask those who make this claim if they are willing to give up either of those benefits). If any schools “indoctrinate” their students, it is the religious schools seeking vouchers.

Here is the sort of stuff that is being used to organize and provoke outrage among white evangelicals.

Public schools are meant to unite us as a diverse people, to teach us to be good citizens, and to prepare our children for the future. Whatever is taught should be based on fact, in history and in science, not faith or theology.

Bruce D. Baker is a school finance expert at Rutgers University. He writes here that the changing legal status of religious schools opens the door to taxing churches.

He begins:

On June 30th 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that if a state has a program of providing public financing for private entities to provide educational services, that program cannot exclude from participation any institution simply because that institution is religious (see Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue). The decision involved a taxpayer financed tuition tax credit program providing vouchers for children to attend private schools, which under the state’s constitution (Blaine amendment), prohibited use of those vouchers at religious schools. This decision followed an earlier SCOTUS decision that prohibited Missouri from excluding religious institutions from access to a publicly financed program for playground refurbishing. These cases combined reverse a long history of state enforced Blaine Amendments which excluded the use of taxpayer dollars for religious institutions, even where taxpayer dollars were available to other private providers.

Of course, one difficulty with such provisions is having the government play any role in defining what is, or isn’t religion, when determining whether a tax benefit or public financing should be bestowed on an institution. Jedi? Religion! Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Religion!

If a state cannot exclude from access to taxpayer resources institutions simply because they are religious, a state also cannot exclude from taxation, institutions simply because they are religious. Indeed, to the extent that properties on which private schools operate are exempt, then this exemption would also apply to properties on which private religious schools operate. But the exemption would not extend to the church itself, or for example, rectories, religious retreats or other lands and buildings used solely for “religious” activities, including worship. The state cannot define religious activity in-and-of-itself to qualify as public service because the state should not be in the business of defining “religion,” and bestowing differential benefits on that basis alone.

Despite public hearings in which a huge majority of citizens showed up online to oppose vouchers, the New Hampshire Senate Finance Committee approved voucher legislation. The legislation already passed the House and will certainly be signed by the Governor. Governor Sununu and the legislative majority are Republicans. Before the 2020 elections, the legislature was controlled by Democrats, who rejected vouchers. Governor Sununu’s state education commissioner home-schooled his children; he has tried repeatedly to defund public schools by allowing students to use their state funding anywhere they pleased.

The vouchers are called “Education Freedom Accounts.” They explicitly guarantee that the private voucher schools will not be required to alter its creed or its admissions policy. The $4,600 voucher will be insufficient to pay tuition at any of the state’s elite private schools.

Senator Jeb Bradley stated at the bill’s hearing that its purpose is to provide choice for parents so that students can succeed whereas they may not be doing so in public school. He estimated the bill’s cost at an average of $4600 per student.The bill hands oversight of EFA applications, notifications, payments and accounting to an independent scholarship organization. Currently, the Children’s Scholarship Fund of New Hampshire is the only such organization. It has one employee. This organization will also approve Education Service Providers [ESPs}.

According to the bill:194-E:7, II – Education service providers shall be given maximum freedom to provide for the educational needs of EFA students without government control…

In order to be approved, an ESP must submit a request to receive payments and agree to follow the rules of the EFA program and to comply with anti-discrimination laws.

V – An education service provider shall not be required to alter its creed, practices, admissions policy, or curriculum in order to accept payments from an EFA.

Clearly, the Republican party has abandoned the principle of separation of church and state as it pursues the goal of using public funds for religious schools.

Apparently, the voucher schools were embarrassed by the Ohio study showing that kids who use vouchers lose ground academically.

There were two ways to respond to that finding: 1) improve instruction in the voucher schools by requiring them to hire certified teachers; 2) obscure the data.

The voucher lobby chose the second route.

The Republican-dominated legislature is now vastly expanding the state’s failing voucher program. But a few years ago, it decided that voucher schools would no longer be required to give the same exams that students in public schools are required to take. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute worried about the change, because it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to draw comparisons between students in public schools and their peers in private and religious schools.

That’s the goal.

Many other states that offer vouchers allow those schools not to take the state exams. Some, like Florida, expect no accountability from voucher schools. Others ask those schools to administer an “equivalent” standardized test, which makes it impossible to compare voucher schools to public schools.

Two prominent Idaho citizens, Jim Jones and Rod Gramer, warned that proposed voucher legislation violates the clear language of the Idaho state constitution and threatens the future of public schools.

Jim Jones is the former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and former Idaho Attorney General and Rod Gramer is president of Idaho Business for Education.

They wrote:


Supporters of privatizing education are about to change the Idaho Constitution and 130 years of education policy without going to a vote of the people. Instead, those who want taxpayers to fund private schools should take their case to the people and let them decide as the Constitution requires.

Idaho’s founders were clear when they adopted the Constitution that the Legislature should support public schools. In Article IX, Section 1 they wrote: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform, and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

The Founders did not say the Legislature should fund private schools. They did not say the Legislature should fund religious schools. In fact, in two other sections of Article IX they specifically said no taxpayer monies should go to fund religious schools.

Yet on page two, line (b), House Bill 294 says that state funds can be used for “tuition or fees at private schools.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that if a state spends funds on private schools it must also provide funding to religious schools, thus allowing House Bill 294 to undermine both the letter and spirit of the Idaho Constitution.

This attempt to undermine the Constitution is piggybacked on the popular Strong Families, Strong Students program Governor Little created last year to provide computers, internet service and tutoring to students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If that’s all the bill did, we would support it. But the bill’s sponsors slipped in the private school tuition provision and made it sound like the bill was a harmless continuation of the Governor’s program. Several lawmakers and veteran reporters missed the bill’s real impact.

Supporters of House Bill 294 have some powerful allies like the Idaho Freedom Foundation which advocates for the abolishment of public schools. Another backer is “Yes. Every Kid” which is funded by the Koch Network, created by the billionaire Koch brothers. It is buying time on Idaho TV stations proclaiming how the bill benefits families. Of course, they don’t mention that it threatens the future of our public schools and violates the Idaho Constitution.

Instead of listening to out-of-state billionaires, legislators should listen to our founders and generations of lawmakers who clearly believed that the state’s responsibility is to fund public schools, not private or religious schools.

There is another reason lawmakers should listen to our founders. Idaho ranks last in the nation in spending per student and is already out of compliance with the Constitution’s mandate to fund a uniform and thorough public school system.

This shortage of state funding has caused local communities to raise their own property taxes by millions of dollars to ensure that their schools can operate. If the state cannot fund our public schools adequately, it makes no sense to divert badly needed state funds to support a private education system too.

Ultimately, the people of Idaho should decide whether to change the Constitution and fund private schools. That’s what our state’s founders intended, that’s what the Constitution says, and that’s what we should do. Not have the Legislature make an end run around the Constitution – or the people of Idaho.

The Kentucky legislature, controlled by Republicans, passed voucher legislation. The Governor, Democrat Andy Bashear, seems certain to veto it.

Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader wonders why Republicans are both anti-public school and anti-teacher, since most of them graduated from public schools and send their own children there. Why are they so eager to take money away from their community schools to fund what are almost certain to be inferior choices? Is it revenge on teachers for leading protests against pension changes?

She writes:

Back in the 1990s, Kentucky was a shining model of a state that valued education. The Kentucky Education Reform Act revolutionized school funding by creating a central pot of property taxes rather than an uneven patchwork of rich and poor. There was much more: cracking down on corruption and nepotism, raising academic standards, new money for teacher training, important supports for struggling children.

But over the past two decades, the state’s politics have turned crimson and all that potential — and state support for it — is slipping away. Why do Republicans appear to dislike and distrust public schools so much? Is it because their teachers are represented by politically powerful unions that happened to get our Democratic unicorn governor elected? Is it because those unions negotiated pretty good pension promises? Is it because they resisted reopening schools? Is it because the very notion of public education recognizes that government can do good things? 

“I think what you see is a demonization of public education that’s coming from all these right wing groups,” said Nema Brewer, a co-founder of 120 Kentucky United, an education advocacy group that helped defeat Republican plans for teacher pensions and elect Beshear in 2019. “The Republican Party of Kentucky has bought into this demonization of public schools, completely forgetting the majority of them are products of public schools. It’s just amazing to me that this is what’s happened.”

Those Republicans got their political revenge on Tuesday night when they passed House Bill 563, what’s known as a “neo-voucher bill.” It hurts teachers and rural school districts, while creating more segregation and less school funding, a veritable lottery for the GOP.

By now, the research on vouchers is compelling: they don’t raise the academic achievements of students. Voucher schools are typically inferior to public schools because they are free to hire uncertified teachers and principals. They discriminate at will. Why would Republicans think it was a good idea to waste public money on low-quality religious schools or to subsidize the tuition of students already in religious schools?


Read more here: https://www.kentucky.com/opinion/linda-blackford/article249974744.html#storylink=cpy

Our wonderful allies, Pastors for Texas Children, send us wonderful news: Friends of public education raised their voices, stood together, and stopped new voucher legislation!

 Vouchers Blocked Again!
Last week, we celebrated the victory of your tireless advocacy for public education funding for our children when we announced Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to extend “hold harmless.” Today, we have another piece of good news: 

The voucher proposal in this session’s House Bill 3 has been removed. 

In a meeting earlier today with Pastors for Texas Children and Raise Your Hand Texas, HB 3 author Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) indicated that all education issues, including vouchers, are being taken out of the bill. This change will be reflected in a committee substitute later this week. We thank Chairman Burrows and Gov. Abbott for their wisdom in removing the voucher from the bill.

PTC Executive Director Rev. Charles Johnson gives “joyous testimony to the love and support Texans have for their neighborhood and community public schools – and firm opposition to the privatization of them through vouchers.”  

“That we have to keep delivering that memo to the Governor and a third of the Legislature is outrageous and unacceptable,” he says.  

Year after year, Pastors for Texas Children will continue to deliver that message, with your help.  

In case you missed it, HB3 is a pandemic response bill that deals with many issues, among them school vouchers. Here is the language of the voucher: If a district of residence fails to compensate the off-campus instructional program before the 46th day after the date of receiving a bill, the commissioner of education shall reimburse the off-campus instructional program from funding deducted from the district. 

According to this bill, the commissioner of education would get to decide which programs qualify for reimbursement from the state, which would be “deducted from the district” directly.  

A voucher bill has been filed in every Texas Legislature since 1995, so we were not surprised, nor were we unprepared. The people of Texas do not want vouchers taking money from their public schools. Furthermore, we will remain vigilant to block any future voucher proposals. 

We are thankful that this dangerous proposition was short-lived, and especially thankful for the public education advocacy community, which includes each of you, for making sure of that. 

Last week, we were honored to join dedicated public education advocates in a webinar with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. We love the different perspectives given by all the panelists, covering this issue thoroughly from all angles. The webinar is called “Fighting Voucher Legislation in 2021: An Update on State Voucher Bills and Tools to Oppose Them.” You can view it here to brush up on your talking points, as they will continue to be relevant. 
PO Box 471155, Fort Worth, Texas, 76147