Religious Freedom Day 2020, Prayer in school, Vouchers in Montana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Tennessee, Why vouchers anyway?
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY
January 16 was Religious Freedom Day.
In 1993 President George H. W. Bush declared January 16 to be Religious Freedom Day. On January 16, 1786, the Virginia House of Delegates, under the leadership of James Madison, passed Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. In 1992, on that date, Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder signed the first proclamation to that effect for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The Virginia Statute was the first document to prohibit a state-sponsored church in the new United States. The statute declared “that Almighty God hath created the mind free” and that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”
It went on to state that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry...or otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.”
The Virginia Statute gave birth to the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.
Meanwhile, 234 years later...
PUBLIC SCHOOL PRAYER GUIDELINES
Trump Administration Marks Religious Freedom Day By Mocking That Principle
...we find that the current administration, likely at the behest of its evangelical base, is doing all it can to blur the separation between church and state first expressed in the Virginia Statute.
Prayer in public schools has been a hot topic for decades, and the courts have consistently held that students may pray or express themselves religiously as long as the prayers or expressions do not interfere with the instructional process and aren't coercive. As Jefferson wrote,
...it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.The administration, however, suggests that non-interference is too much to ask and encourages "student-led" prayer as often as possible. It's true that some public schools may have overly restricted students' religious expression, which is the reason the administration gives for updating the rules. However, instead of dealing with those specific issues, the administration has instead chosen to loosen restrictions for all.
The school prayer guidelines look fairly innocuous on the surface, but when you go a little deeper, you see that they promote prayer at every turn and imply that certain types of supposedly “student-led” prayer can be woven into school-sponsored events, a dubious proposition to say the least.
More alarmingly, the guidelines require states to collect and investigate reports of alleged violations of the right to engage in religious activities from public school students and staff. States must forward all of these to federal officials – even the ones that have no merit. Trump’s increasingly theocratic Justice Department will undoubtedly use these stories to harass public schools that are upholding the separation of church and state all over the nation.
On The Supreme Court’s Docket: Forcing Taxpayers To Pay For Religious Education And Discrimination
In a few days (Jan 22) the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) will rule on a Montana voucher plan which the state courts have found to be unconstitutional based on the state Constitution. The new makeup of the SCOTUS, with two newly appointed right-wing justices, will likely result in a finding in favor of vouchers, but perhaps I might just be feeling cynical.
Indiana is, of course, the home of one of the nation's most expansive voucher programs. Our state supreme court, unlike Montana's, doesn't care if our tax money is given to religious groups that discriminate.
It’s clear what Big Sky lawmakers were up to: They wanted to subsidize private religious education, even though Montana’s Constitution contains a provision explicitly protecting residents from being forced to support “direct or indirect” tax aid for religious purposes.
The Montana Supreme Court correctly struck down the plan, calling it a clear violation of the state constitution. More than 90 percent of private school vouchers in Montana funded private religious schools, and 70 percent of all private schools in the state teach a religious curriculum.
The U.S. Supreme Court now will hear the case, which is troubling. The high court’s decision could set a dangerous precedent, eroding church-state separation not just in Montana, but in three-quarters of U.S. states. Voucher proponents have made it crystal clear that they want to pave the way for private school voucher schemes across the country by gutting the religious freedom provisions that exist in the constitutions of at least 37 states.
Not only do private school voucher programs force taxpayers to fund religious education, but they also force taxpayers to fund discrimination. Private religious schools have free rein to discriminate against children and families if they don’t share the school’s religious beliefs, if a student or parent is LGBTQ, if the child has a disability, or if they don’t follow a school’s religious tenets such as accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior or having premarital sex.
Homeowners Fed Up Paying for Two School Systems
Just like Indiana, Wisconsin's voucher plan takes money away from everyone to pay for religious school vouchers, even in districts that have no voucher accepting schools. The money for vouchers comes out of the "school money" pot first, and then the rest is distributed around to the state's public school districts. The parents in this particular district are fed up...
“There are more and more people across the state talking about this issue,” Hambuch-Boyle said. “More people are becoming aware that their tax money is supporting private education at the expense of public school students, and they’re not happy about it.”
The first voucher program was instituted in Milwaukee in 1990. It grew to include the Racine school district in 2011 and was expanded across the state two years later. There is also a voucher program for special needs students.
Increased spending for voucher schools means less funding available for the state’s 421 public school districts. Every one of those districts is impacted to some extent because voucher school dollars come from the same state budget fund that pays public schools. Voucher disbursements are made first, before public school disbursements occur.
Two articles from Ohio...one with an interesting voucher twist...an Ohio district is forced to put a tax levy on the ballot in order to pay for increased funding to vouchers!
Ohio’s Budget Bill Multiplies School Vouchers, Leaves Local School Districts in Crisis
I wonder whether legislators have any real understanding of the collateral damage for particular communities from policies enacted without debate. Maybe, because our community has worked for fifty years to be a stable, racially and economically diverse community with emphasis on fair housing enforcement and integrated schools, legislators just write us off as another failed urban school district. After all, Ohio’s education policy emphasizes state takeover and privatization instead of equitable school funding. The state punishes instead of helping all but its most affluent, outer ring, exurban, “A”-rated school districts, where property values are high enough that state funding is not a worry.
What this year’s EdChoice voucher expansion means for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district where the members of my book discussion group all live is that—just to pay for the new vouchers—our school district has been forced to put a property tax levy on the March 17 primary election ballot. Ohio’s school finance expert, Howard Fleeter explains that in our school district, EdChoice voucher use has grown by 478 percent in a single year. Fleeter continues: “Cleveland Heights isn’t losing any students…. They are just losing money.’” “If this doesn’t get unwound, I think it is significant enough in terms of the impact on the money schools get to undermine any new funding formula.”
Education leaders battle over school voucher growth
Washington Local Schools Superintendent Kadee Anstadt said the measures used to designate schools as EdChoice eligible are fundamentally flawed. To illustrate this point, Ms. Anstadt pointed to a school in a neighboring district: Toledo Public Schools’ Chase STEM Academy. Chase is considered one of the most improved schools in the area in recent years, yet it’s still on the EdChoice list.
“So really improvement doesn’t matter so much,” she said. “The list is just ongoing. It’s almost a mathematical formula to include as many people as possible.”
AP Exclusive: State Voucher Violations Leave Details Unknown
Tennessee vouchers are put on a debit card that parents can spend at the school of their "choice." Apparently, the state didn't stop to think that some parents might use the money for something else...
Some Tennessee parents were accused of misspending thousands of dollars in school voucher funds while using state-issued debit cards over the past school year, a review by The Associated Press has found, and state officials say they do not know what many of those purchases were for.
The Tennessee voucher program is currently modest in scale but is set to expand under Republican leadership over the next year. The state gives families of children with certain disabilities the option of removing their students from public school and then provides a state-issued debit card loaded with tax dollars to help cover their children's private school needs.
Privatizer's dictionary: "choice"
Parents can decide to enroll their children in a private school at the public's expense. The school, in turn, gets to "choose" whether or not to accept the child.
WHY HAVE VOUCHERS, ANYWAY?
No, private schools aren’t better at educating kids than public schools. Why this new study matters.
Private schools aren't better than public schools...as this article reporting on research published in 2018 reveals. Indiana's voucher program was begun -- supposedly -- to help students "escape" from "failing" schools. Now, after Mike Pence spent his four years as Governor expanding the voucher program, that doesn't matter. Nearly everyone who wants one can get a voucher for a religious school because... "choice." The tax money diverted from public schools doesn't go to religious schools because they're better, but just because parents want to avoid the public schools for one reason or another.
It's interesting that state legislatures don't provide vouchers to private country clubs, for example, for people who want to avoid public parks...or vouchers to book stores for people who don't want to use the public library. Only private schools get vouchers...the vast majority of them, religious schools.
Despite evidence showing otherwise, it remains conventional wisdom in many parts of the education world that private schools do a better job of educating students, with superior standardized test scores and outcomes. It is one of the claims that some supporters of school choice make in arguing that the public should pay for private school education.
The only problem? It isn’t true, a new study confirms.
University of Virginia researchers who looked at data from more than 1,000 students found that all of the advantages supposedly conferred by private education evaporate when socio-demographic characteristics are factored in. There was also no evidence found to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefit more from private school enrollment.
The results confirm what earlier research found but are especially important amid a movement to privatize public education — encouraged by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — based in part on the faulty assumption that public schools are inferior to private ones.
Privatizer's dictionary: "failing school"
A school is considered "failing" when a large percentage of its students score too low, according to an arbitrarily determined cut-score, on a standardized test. This low "achievement" can be caused by poverty, hunger, joblessness, illness, violence and other outside influences that have a deleterious effect on student achievement over which schools have no control. To call a school which finds itself in such a situation "failing" is to abrogate the responsibility of government. To be sure, school leaders have the responsibility to keep order, hire qualified staff, and provide an appropriate curriculum, and in that sense, perhaps a school can be failing. However, if the outside environment in which students spend the bulk of their time is working in opposition to learning, then there's not much that schools can do without adequate resources.