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The Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party

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School Vouchers


Florida Strikes Down Nation's First Statewide Voucher Program, New York Times, January 5, 2006

On a different note from last September:

Last Friday, President Bush released his plan for helping students and schools recover from the Hurricane Katrina tragedy.  While there are good components, what stands out is the administration’s attempt to use the devastation wrought by Katrina as political cover for pushing school vouchers on the nation. more

The Bush administration has argued in favor of school vouchers to pay religious school's tuition in two major Supreme Court cases. The Religious Right won a major victory in June, 2002, when the Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers were constitutional. As a result, under the guise of "choice" for students, tax dollars can now pay for religious schools. Vouchers are part of a trend in the Bush administration to shift responsibilities of government to religious institutions.

"The voucher lobby has become very clever about disguising and shielding this agenda. We have a very unholy alliance of religious political extremists who would like everyone to be taught the Bible in school, and they've linked up forces with some dangerous partners - free-market think­ers and wealthy individuals who stand to make untold amounts of money off privatizing our public schools. This is a dangerous combination." (Samantha Smoot, director of the Texas Freedom Network) more

While vouchers are supposed to give students a "choice," schools also have a "choice." Private schools have the right to not accept students for any number of reasons including race, religious background and learning disabilities.

Secular private schools will most likely become extremely competitive and difficult to gain admission to. Students labeled as "troublemakers" could end up rejected by all schools. This scenario adds up to a public school system, which is required to accept all students, gaining a percentage of difficult students, just as funds to work with those students is siphoned off into private and religious schools. From Church and State:

An Associated Press story with the dateline of Lexington, N.C., concerned a young man named Ben Holmes who had just received word that he was no longer welcome to attend Sheets Christian School.

The problem? Administrators at the private Baptist academy had learned that Holmes and his family are Roman Catholic. "As a private institution, Sheets has the right to deny admission to any student," school administrator Dan Hightower said. more

According to the St. Petersburg Times in Florida,

Private schools receiving public money don't need standardized tests, state certification of teachers or an approved curriculum, and the state doesn't need to worry all that much about financial audits. "The primary accountability and responsibility," Education Commissioner, Jim Horne says, "lies with the parent."

Tina Dupree, director of Miami-based Florida Child, the state's largest corporate tax credit voucher organization, was more blunt in remarks recently to the Miami Herald. "If the parent is satisfied," she said, "why should (taxpayers) even care?" more

The constitutionality of school vouchers is being fought in the states. Thirty-seven states have bans on government support of religious education, and 29 states have bans on "compelled support" for religious institutions.

On December 3, 2003, a Colorado State judge invalidated a statewide school voucher law that was set to take effect next year. A variety of ublic interest groups including Americans United along with the ACLU of Colorado, the National Education Association brought suit against the school voucher law on a number of state constitutional grounds. The groups represented Colorado parents, clergy and taxpayers. more

On September 5, 2003, the House narrowly approved private school vouchers for poor Washington, D.C. students. The plan passed by a vote of 205 to 203. more

Ralph Naes and Nancy Keenan of People for the American Way, wrote about the school voucher experiment in Washington DC. "Republican leaders within Congress are once again trying to foist a voucher experiment on the District of Columbia, despite opposition from D.C. school board members and city residents." "Vouchers and the Hidden Agenda." more.

October 25, 2004: another blow to school vouchers.

A federal appeals court has rejected arguments that a Maine education law must be expanded to include funding for private religious schools.

A Victory for Separation of Church and State

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on February 25, 2004, that states cannot be required to extend scholarship aid to college students training to become members of the clergy. This decision affirms the right of the thirty-seven states whose constitutions do not support government funding of religious studies. It was a victory for the separation of church and state.

On the 7-2 Supreme Court decision Locke v. Davey from Susan Jacoby at the Center for Inquiry-Metro New York:

The court rejected an absurd and radical assault on separation of church and state by refusing to require the state of Washington to pay for the college training of ministers. The Bush administration had filed an amicus curiae brief arguing that Washington should be forced to extend its college scholarship program to ministers-in-training.

In an opinion all the more significant because it was written by the conservative Chief Justice William H. Renquist, the court noted that from "the founding of our country, there have been popular uprisings against procuring taxpayer funds to support church leaders, which was one of the hallmarks of `established' religions." more.

From Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times, February 25, 2004.

"This is a huge defeat for those who want to force taxpayers to pay for religious schooling and other ministries," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "This maintains an important barrier to efforts to fund school vouchers and other faith-based programs. Americans clearly have a right to practice their religion, but they can't demand that the government pay for it."

Another victory for separation of church and state. From the New York Times, August 17, 2004, " Florida Court Rules Against Religious School Vouchers"

In a 2-to-1 decision, the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee found that the "vast majority" of students with vouchers used them to enroll in the kind of "sectarian institutions," or religious schools, that are barred from receiving state money under the Florida Constitution.

Most state constitutions prohibit or restrict state money from being spent on religious institutions, and that remains one of the principal legal barriers to the widespread adoption of school vouchers.

February 12, 2005, New York Times, OHIO: SCHOOL VOUCHERS PROPOSED

Voucher Scandals

Florida: Heritage Schools of Florida, a private school in Miama, cashed $38,000 for 18 students in the past year even though the students had returned to public school.An Ocala voucher school operator was arrested in 2004 for stealing $268,125 in voucher money. Four other voucher academies in Florida are under investigation.

Wisconsin: The State Legislature passed a law requiring voucher schools to report more financial information in the $75 million voucher program that sends 13,000 students to private schools. From Voice of Reason, (2004, p. 8):

One of the worst abuses occurred at the Mandella Academy of Science and Math in Milwaukee, where school officials admitted signing up 200 students who never attended classes, and then cashing $330,000 in state-issued tuition checks.

Ulike their public school counterparts, private school principals and teachers are not required to undergo criminal background checks. That loophole allowed James A. Mitchell, a convicted felon, to serve as principal of Alix's Academy of Excellence, recipient of $2.8 million in voucher money.

Bush Proposes Vouchers for All Displaced Students, The Washington Post, September 20, 2005


Last updated: January-2006