Nel's New Day

March 10, 2017

Trump’s Vouchers Will Kill Education

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) visited a Catholic school in Florida last Friday before his anti-Obama tweet storm. The mission of Orlando’s St. Andrew Catholic School is “developing the students’ spirituality and creativity in order to be disciples of Christ in the 21st century.”With him were his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is close to former Florida governor Jeb Bush. While governor of the state, he instigated the tax credit program requiring taxpayers to provide money to religious schools.

For some people like DeVos and DDT, Florida represents the poster child of charter/private schools with vouchers/tax credits (aka public money taken away from public schools). DDT used Denisha Merriweather at his address to Congress ten days ago to prove that people need tax credits to attend private religious schools. Vouchers are state-issued coupons used for students to attend religious schools, difficult in some states that prohibit taxes going to religious schools. Tax credits provide a loophole to these laws because they are given to people and corporations who get this money for donations while they give scholarships to students. The system can be so lucrative for these donors that they sometime make money. That’s why DeVos and DDT like the tax credit system.

Merriweather attended the Esprit de Corps Center for Learning, established in 2001 and “birthed from the mind of God in the heart of Dr. Jeannette C. Holmes-Vann, the Pastor and Founder of Hope Chapel Ministries, Inc.” Its A Beka curriculum, frequently used in Christian schools, teaches the Bible as literal history. Among other misconceptions, the curriculum teachers about the inferiority of Africa and its people, justifying Southern slavery. Before attending the Christian school, Merriweather barely attended any public schools because her mother was constantly moving from place to place. Her attendance at the private school began when she started living with her grandmother.

An investigation of Florida private schools, however, found the program to be a “cottage industry of fraud and chaos.” Schools don’t require accreditation, oversight, transparency, or even curriculum. The only data that schools must make public is attendance. Some school staffers have been convicted of drug dealing, kidnapping, and burglary. In one “business management” class, students took to the streets and shook cans for coins. In 38 schools suspected of fraud, 25 of the allegations were substantiated, and at least one school used corporal punishment. Students with disabilities can participate in the Florida private school program only if they sign away their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Florida is not unique in its massive deficiencies in private education. Other states also force students with disabilities to waive their rights before attending these schools, and schools in other states don’t even accept students with learning disabilities. In addition, school districts in other states that use vouchers are among the lowest performing in the nation, and the concept frequently fails at the ballot box. According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, the risks to school systems with voucher programs “outweigh insignificant gains in test scores and limited gains in graduation rates.” The answer to better education is not private schools but supporting and strengthening neighborhood public schools.

A 2015 study showed that tens of thousands of Indiana voucher students transferring to private schools under Mike Pence suffered significant losses in mathematics achievement and no improvement in reading.

Another voucher study by the conservative choice-supporting Thomas B. Fordham Institute and financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, studied Ohio’s large voucher program. Researchers found that “students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”

The Louisiana program used a lottery system to admit students to private schools, and students at the 50th percentile in math in public schools dropped to the 26th percentile in the first year of transfer to private schools. These students also suffered negative results in reading also showed negative results, according to Professor Martin West at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, that were “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature” throughout the history of U.S. education research.

Milwaukee (WI) has been totally a “choice” school district for 20 years, and over one-fourth of students in that city attend private schools with vouchers. In that city, blacks comprise about two-thirds of the student body. The eighth-graders score lower in math than those in 12 other urban areas except Detroit, which also has a high level of school choice. In reading, Milwaukee eighth-graders are worse than even the ones in Detroit.

Because of DeVos’ push to privatize all schools in her state, Michigan has more low-performing charter schools than any other state: 38 percent of them are in the bottom of achieving schools. Michigan students have continually made the least improvement nationally of scores since 2003 and are in the bottom ten in proficiency growth in the four measures of National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests: mathematics, reading, writing, and science.State law has no way of improving or shutting down failing charters. Almost anyone can open a charter school if they have the money, and it’s almost never held accountable. In DeVos’ Michigan, students “have no fundamental right to literacy,” according to Gov. Rick Snyder’s lawyers. Seven Detroit students are suing on the basis that schools should deliver “access to literacy, and 47 percent of Detroiters were illiterate in a report five years ago.

People argue that the voucher program is cheaper. Yet it could raise costs by 25 percent of more because of the additional students, record keeping, transportation, information to parents, and dispute adjudication. Expanding the charter schools in Michigan has also been disastrous for school budgets. Once school districts are in dire consequences, the state can take control of the school district under the emergency management law. Once the state takes over, emergency managers close schools, lay off staff, cut salaries, outsource services, and even transfer the entire district to private for-profit charter management companies. Detroit has the second highest percentage of students attending charter schools; only New Orleans has a higher number in private schools.

This article explains how Betsy DeVos took over Michigan—and how she can take over the United States.

Rural communities, the places where DDT got a large number of his votes, would suffer disproportionately from vouchers because of sparse population and small districts lacking enough schools for a viable voucher program. Such a shift would destabilize not only the schools but also the communities that use schools as a nucleus. Of the 13,000 school districts across the nation, almost 9,000 have four or fewer schools where voucher proposals could largely destroy the public system, and another 2,200 districts with five to eight schools risk harm in serving its millions of students. That’s almost 90 percent of the districts that can fail because of DDT’s and DeVos’ voucher system.

Not all voucher programs are disasters. Findings indicated that well-regulated Massachusetts charter schools have a positive impact on test scores. But both DeVos and DDT are allergic to regulations. The best charters tend to be nonprofit public schools that accept all students are accountable to public authorities.

The only argument supporting the voucher system is ideology. People say they want individual choice even if the choice has a worse outcome. As with many conservatives, data makes no difference; it’s belief that matters. DeVos believes that any non-government school is better than any public school no matter the success rate of either one.

Watch DDT invest in for-profit charter school companies. Oh, that’s right! You can’t because he won’t reveal his tax returns.

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March 24, 2014

Laws Force Taxpayers to Fund Religious Studies

creationismgraphicforsocial02_sidebar A short time ago, I wrote about how taxpayers are funding public benefits for workers because of the low wages that companies like Walmart provide to their employees. Another cost to taxpayers in at least 14 states is for religious instruction. (A state-by-state breakdown of schools is available here.)  Private school tuition through voucher programs are costing taxpayers almost $1 billion to provide misinformation in science, mathematics, history, and other areas of instruction—all in the name of religion.

Court cases across the nation and at the U.S. Supreme Court have upheld the constitutional separation of church and state in schools. Public schools cannot teach creationism or intelligent design. But private schools can—and do—provide these misinformation to their students while schools receive public subsidies. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld voucher programs, even when they subsidize religious education, as long as parents who accept vouchers can choose where to spend them.

In a review of hundreds of pages of school curriculum, course outlines, textbooks, and websites, Politico discovered a “disdain of the secular world, distrust of momentous discoveries and hostility toward mainstream scientists. They often distort basic facts about the scientific method–teaching, for instance, that theories such as evolution are by definition highly speculative because they haven’t been elevated to the status of “scientific law.”  Private schools have the advantage of ignoring all standards and set their own curriculum with almost no oversight.

Taxpayers are forced to pay for curriculum that includes the religious belief that the planet is only 6,000 years old. Taxpayers fund education falsely teaching that people lived at the same time as dinosaurs. Textbooks popular in Christian schools describe evolution as “a wicked and vain philosophy,” while students practice vocabulary lessons that claim “many scientists today are creationists.” Eric Meikle, project director at the National Center for Science Education, said, “I don’t think the function of public education is to prepare students for the turn of the 19th century.”

Textbooks deride “modern math theorists” who fail to view mathematics as absolute laws ordained by God and shun “modern” breakthroughs such as set theory which was developed in the 19th century. In the classroom, math teachers set aside time tech week, even in geometry and algebra, to explore numbers in the Bible. According to these schools, mathematics laws are ordained by God.

Because of recent articles on the Internet, people are somewhat aware of the horrifying science and math curriculum in private schools. Social studies, however, suffer from the same abuses of information. Christian publishers A Beka Beook and Bob Jones University Publishing have their products in 43 percent of religious voucher schools that responded to a 2003 survey. Here is a tiny sample of what they teach. Details are available here about the religious schools view of 20th century history:

  • The Great Depression was a myth, made up rumors to spread socialism.
  • Karl Marx and Charles Darwin were responsible for Hitler and the Nazis; Germans accepted Hitler’s ideas because they accepted evolution.
  • The culture of post-World War II brought strong families and kept crime to the “back alleys.” Because of the evangelists’ crusades during the 1950s, Billy Graham was “one of the best known and respected persons in America and the world.”
  • Problems in the 1960s and 1970s came from the suspension of the death penalty and the legalization of abortion. “Prosperity and new-wound enjoyments” caused people to ‘forget’ God” with an increase in crime, the legalization of gambling, and “the teachings of Sigmund Freud.”
  • “Pornographic films and books were legalized under the guise of ‘freedom of speech.’”

Instruction in these schools on guns: “The founding fathers… understood that unarmed citizens would not be able to stand against a tyrannical government.” Gun control is a “gateway to tyranny.” Hitler, Stalin, and Mao disarmed their citizens. “Armed citizens could also play a major role in thwarting Globalism, the idea to bring the world together under ‘one global government.’ making the constitution null and void.”

Biography curriculum in private schools:

  • Clarence Thomas is the greatest example of black American achievement. (No mention of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice and champion of civil rights.)
  • Bill Clinton and Ross Perot joined forces during the 1990s to create another myth of economic crisis. “Bill Clinton had dodged military service and participated in anti-war demonstration in Great Britain.”
  • George W. Bush saved the country from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. (No mention of George W. Bush’s draft-dodging.)
  • Barack Obama should be known for his tolerance of “people who choose to live an alternative lifestyle, a ‘lifestyle’ the Bible calls sin.” The subject of homosexuality is in the chapter on “Cultural Decay.”

Critical thinking is these private schools is almost nonexistent. According to one school, “Our understanding is not complete until we filter it through God’s Word.” This is the “DISCERN” system used in thinking: Determine your choices; Inquire of God through prayer; Search the scriptures; Consider godly counsel; Eliminate worldly thinking; Recognize God’s leading; Never compromise the truth. In addition to the “Discern” method, funded by public taxes, many schools are clear about their goal to arm students against using multiculturalism in looking at the world.

About 250,000 students currently use vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. Although that’s a fraction of the country’s 55 million public school students, it has increased 30 percent since 2010. States are also planning increases: for example, Florida plans to go from $286 million this year to $700 million in 2018. The state will be joined by 26 states that are considering new voucher programs or the expansion of current ones.

A popular plan is stocking individual bank accounts with state funds that parents can spend on religious and secular tutors as well as schools. The Arizona Supreme Court has already decided that this approach is constitutional. The state plans to make more than 70 percent of the state’s students eligible for vouchers.

Arizona’s state education superintendent, John Huppenthal, has made recorded calls to thousands of parents touting the Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account. Eligible families can receive an average of $13,000 a year in public funds for their children’s education, including the purchase of materials on creationism. Huppenthal liked this public education but helped pass a state law to prevent Mexican-American studies in high schools by threatening to shut off their public funding. Only a federal court order reinstated the popular class.

Voucher supporters spend heavily to elect lawmakers who believe in this system. The American Federation for Children, a major pro-voucher group, has spent $18 million on campaigns since 2007, and the Koch group Americans for Prosperity has campaigned for private school subsidies in ten states.

New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan is personally lobbying for $150 million a year on private school subsidies. The state Senate has passed the initiative, and the Assembly has 100 co-sponsors. Information about other states is available here.

On the federal level, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has introduced a bill to consolidate dozens of federal education programs into one $24 billion funding stream for state vouchers. He disagrees that vouchers would put students into religious schools that devalue education. He cites the achievements of students in Catholic schools. Yet those students typically come from well-educated families and are far less likely to be poor, have disabilities, or still be learning English. A study controlling for these variables found that private schools have no advantage.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is pushing school choice. He said, “It is my personal goal that in 10 years, every child in America will have education opportunity through school choice no matter where they live.” Other GOP members of Congress are determined to restore Washington, D.C. vouchers in the budget.

School voucher programs are not only ineffective. These programs exacerbate the inequality within the nation’s schools and weaken the public school system as a whole. In addition, many parents receiving voucher payments already send their children to private religious schools. And taxpayers are forced to finance this abuse of the educational system.

Among the world’s most-developed countries, U.S. students are below average in math and close to average in science and reading. In 2009, 23 nations and other jurisdictions outperformed U.S. students; three years later, 29 locales do so. In science, 22 of those scored were above the U.S., up from 18 three in 2009. In 2012, U.S. students were down by 19, over double from the tenth position three years earlier. U.S. students are below Russia. The prevalence of the vouchers to religious schools will guarantee another drop when the next comparison is done next year.

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