Reading ‘Rriting and Religion: Tennessee Legislators Move To Kill Voucher Bill To Avoid Funds Going To Muslim School

597px-Tennessee-StateSeal.svgSchoolClassroomMany of us have opposed voucher systems as thinly veiled efforts to publicly fund religious schools in addition to a system that undermines our public school system. Republican lawmakers in Tennessee seem intent on confirming the religious motivations behind the system this week in opposing vouchers because it has occurred to them that Muslim schools might be able to receive funding with Christian schools. They are threatening to block Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s school voucher bill unless they can find a way to deny it to Muslim schools — a suggestion that brings sectarian prejudices to the forefront of the debate.

TracyState Sen. Jim Tracy (R) raised his “considerable concern” that tax dollars could go to schools that teach principles from the Quran . . . . as opposed to those schools that teach the principles from the Bible. Tracy is on the Senate Education Committee and, apparently more importantly, is a member of the Church of Christ. He wants to amend the law to exclude Muslim schools — something that is not just an act of raw prejudice but completely unconstitutional.

Kelsey triggered the debate by trying to expand the voucher program from the lowest 5 percent of schools to every school in the state. However, that would mean that at least one identified Muslim school could qualify — sending the legislators into a sectarian panic.

State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R) agreed that the fear of funding Muslim educational institutions was “just another reason for not amending the governor’s bill,” Norris pointed out.

s13The Tennessee legislator is in a frenzy over Islam. State Sen. Bill Ketron (R) seems to be fashioning himself as a type of Joe McCarthy of religion. He sponsored a bill to ban Sharia law in Tennessee and recently went public to demand answers from Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey on whether a floor-level sink installed outside the House chamber men’s restroom was intended to accommodate Muslims’ ritual of washing their feet before prayer.

It turned out to be a mop sink and Ketron and other legislators breathed a collective sectarian sigh of relief.

The death of the voucher bill puts the sectarian motives of some legislators in sharp relief. These legislators often deny that they have any interest in funding church institutions and simply want to improve educational opportunities for students (while refusing of course to actually fully fund public schools or commit resources to make them competitive with other states). The poor performance of public schools allows legislators to siphon off funds to religious institutions in the name of education. It is a perverse incentive. By not fixing their schools, religious legislators can get more money to Christian and Jewish schools. However, Tennessee is reminding everyone that one of the three Rs remains Religion and it has to be the right religion to receive public subsidy.

Source: Raw Story

47 thoughts on “Reading ‘Rriting and Religion: Tennessee Legislators Move To Kill Voucher Bill To Avoid Funds Going To Muslim School”

  1. Here are simple facts. (For the sake of clarity, I’ll refer to “charter schools” and “public schools” even though charter schools are technically public schools, even though they’re run by private companies.)

    Some charter schools discriminate against students with special needs.
    Some public schools discriminate against students with special needs (I used to work with precisely those students).

    Some public schools refuse to discriminate against students with special needs.
    Some charter schools refuse to discriminate against students with special needs.

    Some charter schools are run by people without the students’ best interests in mind.
    Some public schools are run by people without the students’ best interests in mind.

    Some public schools are run by selfless people devoted to the education and improvement of students.
    Some charter schools are run by selfless people devoted to the education and improvement of students.

    Public schools and charter schools do about the same on useless, arbitrary standardized tests that do nothing to measure real learning.

    There are many students and parents happy with their public schools and there are many students and parents happy with their charter schools.

    There are many students and parents unhappy with their public schools and there are many students and parents happy with their charter schools.

    There are many, many lower and middle income families who are very, very thankful that a charter school was available to them, as the local public school was thoroughly unsatisfactory, and years of promises to improve it failed to result in improvement.

    Facts done. Now, opinion.

    I am against using public funds for religious schools for the usual constitutional reasons, but to look at a low income family and tell them that they have no choice but to use the local school, even if it’s violent or otherwise unsatisfactory, is neither liberal nor compassionate.

    Dismissing charter schools and vouchers used for non-religious private schools is to put ideology over a devotion to education and the belief that every citizen, no matter their income, deserves access to quality education.

    Pretending that more money will improve public schools (despite the fact that we spend 3 times per pupil now in inflation-adjusted dollars than we did 40 years ago, and despite the fact that many countries have better education systems while spending less per pupil) is no different than pretending that if we spend more money on the war on drugs that we can decrease addiction, or that if we spend more money on the military, the country will be safer. It represents Einstein’s definition of insanity.

    The problem with public education has nothing to do with lack of funds and everything to do with the management of those funds, the stagnant, ineffective education paradigm, and the resistance to empowering students and families with greater control over one of the most personal endeavors people ever undertake.

  2. Elaine.

    A question. Am I correct in assuming that the high stakes tests used to delegitimize public schools rely entirely on multiple choice questions?

  3. Freedom of religion for some folk means everyone being able to worship Jesus in his own way.

  4. Why the Right Hates Public Education
    By Barbara Miner

    In an article about education, it’s appropriate to start with a pop quiz. Today’s question: Republican strategists want to privatize education because:

    a) Education is a multibillion dollar market, and the private sector is eager to get its hands on those dollars.

    b) Conservatives are devoted to the free market and believe that private is inherently superior to public.

    c) Shrinking public education furthers the Republican Party goal of drastically reducing the public sector.

    d) Privatization undermines teacher unions, a key base of support for the Democratic Party.

    e) Privatization rhetoric can be used to woo African American and Latino voters to the Republican Party.

    f) All of the above.

    OK, I admit it, the answer’s obvious: all of the above. But in the debates over education policy, the Republican political agenda (see d and e) is often invisible.

    Occasionally, Republican strategists let the cat out of the bag and admit that vouchers–which divert public dollars to private schools–are about politics, not education.

    Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform and one of the most influential Republican strategists in Washington, has long recognized the partisan value of vouchers, sometimes euphemistically referred to as “choice.” “School choice reaches right into the heart of the Democratic coalition and takes people out of it,” he said in a 1998 interview with Insight , the magazine of the conservative Washington Times.

    Norquist and others see great political benefit in going after the teachers’ unions. During the last thirty years, as private sector unionism has declined, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA) have grown in strength. Today, the 2.7 million-member NEA is the country’s largest union. The AFT has one million members, mostly in education but also in health care and the public sector.

    While both teacher unions overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party, conservatives especially hate the NEA. It is larger, more geographically diverse, with members in every Congressional district in the country, and more likely to push a liberal agenda that includes social issues such as gay rights.

    As the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation complained this fall, the NEA is “the nation’s largest, most powerful, and most political union.”

    The teacher unions back up their support for the Democratic Party with money and grassroots organization. After all, public schools exist in every municipality and county in the nation. Unlike manufacturing, teaching cannot be outsourced to Mexico, China, or Bangladesh.

    In mainstream publications, conservatives tend to muffle their partisan antagonism toward teacher unions. Not so in conservative publications and documents.

    The issue comes down to “a matter of power,” said Terry Moe, a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution and co-author of the book Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools , in an interview with the Heartland Institute in Chicago this summer.

    The NEA and AFT “have a lot of money for campaign contributions and for lobbying,” he said. “They also have a lot of electoral clout because they have many activists out in the trenches in every political district. . . . No other group can claim this kind of geographically uniform political activity. They are everywhere.”

    School vouchers are a way to diminish that power. “School choice allows children and money to leave the system, and that means there will be fewer public teacher jobs, lower union membership, and lower dues,” Moe explains.

    For those in the thick of the debate, it’s long been obvious that vouchers are an attack on teacher unions. Even Wisconsin State Representative Annette “Polly” Williams, an African American who helped start the Milwaukee voucher program, the country’s first, now admits as much. “The main motivation of some of the choice supporters was to weaken public education unions,” she wrote in a letter this summer to Governor Jim Doyle.

    Eliminating public education may seem unAmerican. But a growing number of movement conservatives have signed a proclamation from the Alliance for the Separation of School and State that favors “ending government involvement in education.” Signatories include such Washington notables as David Boaz and Ed Crane of the Cato Institute; conservative author Dinesh D’Souza; Dean Clancy, who is an education policy analyst for House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert; and Howard Phillips, president of the Conservative Caucus.

    Wisconsin State Representative Chris Sinicki, who was a Milwaukee School Board member when vouchers began in Milwaukee in 1990, says there is no doubt that vouchers “are a Republican strategy to take down public education and the unions. This is partisan politics, completely.”

    Which brings us back to our pop quiz and, in particular, to Answer e: Privatization rhetoric can be used to woo African American and Latino voters to the Republican Party.

    In the 2000 Presidential election, Bush garnered only 8 percent of the African American vote and about 35 percent of the Latino vote. (Overall, less than 10 percent of Bush’s votes came from minorities.) The following year, Republican strategist Matthew Dowd outlined a plan to boost African American support to 13-15 percent and Latino support to 38-40 percent for the 2004 election.

    While universal vouchers remain the goal, for tactical reasons conservatives have wrapped vouchers in the mantle of concern for poor African Americans and Latinos. Indeed, voucher supporters are fond of calling school choice the new civil rights movement. This plays well not only with voters of color but also with liberal suburban whites who, while they may be leery of allowing significant numbers of minorities into their schools, nonetheless support the concept of equal rights for all.

    Conservatives and their front groups in the African American and Latino communities have not been shy about comparing voucher opponents to Southern segregationists. During the Congressional push for vouchers in Washington, D.C., this fall, groups such as D.C. Parents for School Choice launched a particularly vicious campaign against prominent Democrats. “Forty years ago, politicians like George Wallace stood in the doors of good schools trying to prevent poor black children from getting in,” one ad said, comparing voucher opponents like Senator Edward Kennedy to Wallace.

    Virginia Walden-Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, was vague in explaining to the Washington community newspaper The Common Denominator how her group financed the ads. She did admit that over the years her group had received money from the Bradley Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and Children First America–all prominent conservative organizations supporting vouchers. The Institute for Justice, a libertarian legal group, provided media support. So did Audrey Mullen, a signer of the Separation of School and State proclamation.

  5. School vouchers harm public education
    By Patrick Elliott

    With voucher advocates this week trumpeting National School Choice Week, it is a fitting time to examine some Milwaukee choice schools and the proposed expansion of private school vouchers in Wisconsin. Some politicians are intent on slowly doing away with our public education system in favor of privatized education that is paid for with taxpayers’ money.

    Voucher money largely flows to religious schools. Based upon a review of state Department of Public Instruction data on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, more than 21,000 of the nearly 25,000 enrolled students at the beginning of this school year attended readily identifiable religious schools. This amounts to more than $133 million in taxpayer money going to religious institutions in Milwaukee just this school year alone.

    Funding private and religious schools through vouchers is an end-run around our constitutionally created public education system. The Wisconsin Constitution requires the Legislature to “provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge . . . and no sectarian instruction shall be allowed therein.” Proposals to continue to chip away at public education and expand vouchers by increasing the geographic area, participant income limits and funding levels of voucher programs are contrary to our long-valued public education system.

    Schools do not exist just for the benefit of parents; they serve to educate the next generation to create an educated citizenry and to ensure the vitality of the state. This is a public good that is supported by all Wisconsinites, including those who do not have school-aged children. This social value is recognized by our constitutionally created public school system and our compulsory education laws.

    While parents pick the school of their choice in using vouchers, taxpayers pay the bills and they have no means of holding voucher schools accountable. Low-performing voucher schools, which have little state oversight, can do as they please. Voucher schools are not governed by publicly elected school boards that have to answer to constituents.

    Some of the Milwaukee choice schools are not holding up their duty to provide a comprehensive education. Take, for instance, the Clara Mohammed School. According to its filings with the Internal Revenue Service, the school’s purpose is to engage in a “Qur’an-guided journey toward active global citizenship.” It is funded almost exclusively through vouchers. In 2011, only 0.8% of its students (1 out of 123) tested proficient in math and 5.7% tested proficient in reading on state exams.

    Other Milwaukee choice schools are using unscientific and outdated curriculum from fundamentalist Christian textbook publishers such as A Beka Books. Carter’s Christian Academy describes the A Beka materials, which cover normal school subjects, as being “presented from God’s point of view.” Of the 69 Carter’s Christian students tested in 2011, none tested proficient in reading by state standards and only three tested proficient in math.

    The heads of some low-performing voucher schools remain well-compensated. IRS records show that Carter’s Christian Academy principal Andre Carter received compensation of $109,000 in 2011. Dorothy Travis-Moore of the Ceria M. Travis Academy receives $150,000 annually. In 2011, roughly 2% of the voucher students at the Travis Academy tested proficient on state exams.

    All three low-performing voucher schools have increased enrollment this year. These schools are a symptom of a larger problem. The schools can take public money and teach what they want. Parents will continue to send their students to these schools, whether for religious reasons or because they mistakenly believe school leaders are up to the task of providing a sound education.

    The voucher school program needs elimination rather than expansion.

    (Patrick Elliott is a staff attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison.)

  6. Voucher Veneer: The Deeper Agenda to Privatize Public Education
    A report by People For the American Way Foundation

    Executive Summary

    Today, governmental responsibilities in education and the strong connection that Americans have with their public schools are being put to a serious test. A network of Religious Right groups, free-market economists, ultraconservative columnists and others are using vouchers as a vehicle to achieve their ultimate goal of privatizing education. Their embrace of vouchers reflects their view that to be successful, privatization must be achieved incrementally. The long-term goal is to make all schooling an activity supplied by private sources: for-profit management companies, religious organizations and home schools. The movement believes that targeted voucher plans, such as those in Florida, Milwaukee and Cleveland, give them a foot in the door en route to achieving this goal. While many of those who want to privatize education choose their words very carefully, others are more candid about their goals. The Heartland Institute’s Joseph Bast has urged others who share his group’s extreme agenda to be patient. “The complete privatization of schooling might be desirable, but this objective is politically impossible for the time being. Vouchers are a type of reform that is possible now, and would put us on the path to further privatization.”

    1. Vouchers are part of a broader strategy by some to privatize public schools.

    Joel Belz, publisher of World—a Religious Right magazine—wrote a column several years ago sympathizing with those who oppose vouchers because they don’t want government to play any role in education. He wrote: “If [supporting vouchers] helps bring down the statist system, which it will, it will be worth the temporary compromise.”(emphasis added) Supporting vouchers now, Belz argued, would help pro-privatization groups in the long run “gain a larger strategic advantage.”

    2. Voucher supporters are pushing their agenda from the highest levels.

    Privatization advocates have made a serious effort to bring about change, no longer from outside the system but from within the corridors of power. U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., after his appointment to the House education committee said, “I think it’s a lot easier to kill the beast when you get in the cave.” Recently, the Bush Administration appointed Nina Shokraii Rees, a staunch voucher advocate, to head DOE’s Office of Innovation and Improvement.

    3. Many pro-privatization groups offer two messages: one for committed followers and another for the broader public.

    For example, the Florida-based James Madison Institute has stated that it “believes that parents should have the freedom to make decisions in the best interests of their children.” Most Americans, including those who strongly support public education, would likely agree with this vague statement. These words, of course, leave unmentioned the fact that the James Madison Institute’s education policy director has signed a proclamation that calls for scrapping the public education system.

    4. Many existing private schools are unlikely to accommodate significant numbers of additional students in a privatized system.

    Chester E. Finn, Jr., who heads the Fordham Foundation, notes that it is generally hard to find private school leaders “who want their schools to grow, to open additional campuses, to recruit more clients.” Finn also recently admitted that “there aren’t enough private schools to go around” for would-be voucher students. Indeed, a massive number of schools would have to be built to replace all or most of the 92,000 public schools operating across America.

    5. Vouchers can lead to hastily created ‘fly-by-night’ private schools unable to provide children with a quality education.

    Concerns about quality are magnified by the fact that private and religious schools are not held accountable in the same manner as public schools. In fact, the CATO Institute’s David Salisbury recently argued that private schools’ ability to disregard state standards is “the very basis for school choice.”

    6. Schools may not be just another economic market.

    The voucher movement largely owes its beginnings to economist Milton Friedman’s beliefs that the private sector delivers goods and services more efficiently than public institutions. Ironically, some of the conditions in public schools identified by critics as problems are rooted in the dynamics of the free market system they praise. Large schools were inspired largely by private enterprise, which has long encouraged “economies of scale.” Boston University professor Philip Tate has observed that rigid class schedules, reliance on test scores and other traits of public schools “were instituted in the name of efficiency” and created a “factory model” of schooling.

  7. School vouchers foolishly privatize public education
    By Aaron Loudenslager
    The Badger Herald
    Feb 13, 2013

    In recent weeks, Gov. Scott Walker has been pushing for renewed efforts to expand Wisconsin’s school voucher program, without exactly specifying what this program would entail. Walker’s renewed effort to expand the program coincides with the efforts of three former Republican state representatives who are now lobbying for an expanded school voucher program. Wisconsin’s school voucher program is misguided and is ultimately not a good policy for the state.

    The Wisconsin school voucher program was created in 1990 as an effort to help Milwaukee children living in poverty escape their financial situation. But does the school voucher program actually accomplish this goal? In an individual case, the program may succeed, but when the cases are aggregated together it seems highly unlikely.

    Students who qualify for the Wisconsin school voucher program receive a taxpayer-funded subsidy of $6,442 per year to attend a private school of their choice. But the fact remains the average national cost of tuition at private high schools is much higher than Wisconsin’s $6,442 yearly voucher subsidy. According to U.S. News, the average cost of private high school tuition in the U.S. between 1999 and 2000 was $6,053. By 2007 it had reached $10,549. Since the Wisconsin voucher subsidy does not always cover the full cost of private high school tuition, many students eligible for a voucher can’t attend a private high school because they still can’t afford it.

    When a voucher-eligible Wisconsin student is actually able to afford private high school tuition, it is usually a parochial school instead of a secular school. This occurs because according to the Anti-Defamation League, “parochial schools are generally a good deal cheaper than other private schools.” This would explain why more than 21,000 of the approximately 25,000 students in the Wisconsin school voucher program attend parochial schools. Although the U.S. Supreme Court does not think school voucher programs — which as a practical matter directly subsidize parochial schools — are a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of separation of church of state, common sense dictates that they do.

    Regardless of the constitutional issues school vouchers present when used to finance a parochial school education, school vouchers still don’t fulfill their intended goal of helping students in less than desirable economic situations escape poverty. Many students living in poverty are still not able to afford a private high school’s tuition because the voucher subsidy is simply not enough.

    Instead, school vouchers represent the modern trend of Republican Party thinking: privatize and privatize some more.

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