Government money goes to fund creationism (and athletes)

Yesterday’s New York Times contains a long and disturbing piece by Stephanie Saul, “Public money finds back door to private schools,” detailing how residents of several U.S. states can get tax credits for donating money to funds enabling poverty-stricken kids in dysfunctional public schools to attend private ones.  The tax-free money is funneled to students through private organizations.

That in itself isn’t so bad, but what is bad is how the money is used:

  • It’s used by well-off people to donate money for scholarships for their own children, some of whom are already in private schools
  • It’s used by people to solicit money from their friends and relatives to support the solicitor’s kids, some of whom are already in private schools
  • Most of the private schools for which scholarships are given are religious schools, particularly in the South. And, of course, those religious schools are advertising big time to get students into their brainwashing tanks.
  • Up to 20% of the scholarship money can go to the coordinating organization itself rather than the students
  • Donors can actually make money by filing both federal charitable deductions and state tax credits. In other words, they make money on the scheme.
  • It’s used by private schools to beef up their athletic programs. In Georgia, for example, athletic scholarships are banned in public schools, but this program allows organizations to give the donated scholarship money to student athletes. This is clearly being done, as the article shows.
  • And to my mind the worst part: the money sends kids to schools where biology classes teach creationism instead of evolution. Here’s what the NYT says:

Many religiously affiliated schools across the country are known for turning out well-educated students and teaching core subjects without a sectarian bias. But some schools financed by the tax-credit programs teach a fundamentalist dogma holding that the world was literally created in six days. Some of the schools use textbooks produced by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book, a Christian publisher in Pensacola, Fla.

The books became an issue in 2005 when the University of California system said it would not honor some credits of students who attended schools that use them.

In an ensuing lawsuit filed against the university by Christian schools, Donald Kennedy, a biologist who is a former president of Stanford, said in court papers that the science texts made statements that were “flatly wrong” and “plainly contrary to the scientific facts” when hewing to creationist theory. The case was ultimately decided in favor of the university.

“It’s a Christian curriculum, and some parts of it are controversial,” said Jon East, vice president for policy at Step Up For Students, the organization that runs the Florida scholarship program. The books are also used in some schools in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

An A Beka high school science text concluded that “much variety within the human race has developed from the eight people who left the Ark.” Another text, used in sixth grade, makes repeated references to Noah and the flood, which it calls the reason for both the world’s petroleum reserves and the development of fossils.

History and economics texts are also infused with fundamentalist theology and an unabashedly conservative viewpoint. The Great Depression, one says, was exaggerated to move the country toward socialism, and it described “The Grapes of Wrath” as propaganda.

Frances Paterson, a professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia who has studied the books, said they “frequently resemble partisan, political literature more than they do the traditional textbooks used in public schools.”

And look at this nifty piece of rationalizing:

Mr. Arnold, the headmaster of the Covenant Christian Academy in Cumming, Ga., confirmed that his school used those texts but said they were part of a larger curriculum.

“You have to keep in mind that the curriculum goes beyond the textbook,” Mr. Arnold said. “Not only do we teach the students that creation is the way the world was created and that God is in control and he made all things, we also teach them what the false theories of the world are, such as the Big Bang theory and Darwinism. We teach those as fallacies.”

Yep, they teach evolution, but as a fallacy. What a pack of lying morons.

At any rate, while this would seem to violate the Constitutional wall between church and state (people get government tax deductions for sending people to religious schools), it’s hard to test because the money chain goes entirely through private hands:

“The difficulty of getting at this thing from a constitutional point of view is that there are private dollars coming from a private individual and going to a private foundation. It drives the N.E.A. completely off the wall because they can’t say this is government funding,” Mr. Franks said, referring to the National Education Association. [Franks is an Arizona Republican and former state lawmaker.]

. . . As predicted, tax credits have thus far withstood legal challenges, most recently when the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s program last year. It had been challenged on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government endorsement of religion.

Only the partisan and malevolent Bushie Supreme Court could make a ruling like that.  I only hope a Kitzmiller v. Dover case doesn’t come up before them.  And it will be a long time before the conservative members start dying off.

22 Comments

  1. Pray Hard
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Funding promotion of creationism and high jumpin’ for Jesus, what more could a Republican wingnut want? Well, it’s probably totin’ the pig skin for Jesus, but you get the picture.

  2. raven
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    we also teach them what the false theories of the world are, such as the Big Bang theory and Darwinism. We teach those as fallacies.”

    This is a lie here.

    They don’t teach astronomy or biology even to claim it is a fallacy.

    At best they teach a simple minded creationist cartoon version. “Evolution teaches us that we all came from a tornado tearing through a junkyard.” and, “evolution teaches us to be cannibals and criminals”.

    At one time, some state briefly had a strengths and weaknesses law. One creationist science teacher was asked how she taught the strengths of evolutionary theory.

    “Well there aren’t any strengths of evolutionary theory so I don’t bother.”

    • Posted May 23, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      And I wonder what ‘strengths’ she taught for creationism??

  3. Posted May 23, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    ” … we teach the students that creation is the way the world was created and that God is in control and he made all things …”

    That’s right kids. Who put the Vibrio vulnificus in the water? Jebus did.

  4. Posted May 23, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    yeah, self interest comes first. The next time someone asks me why I “believe” in evolution, I’m going to say look in the mirror. This is depressing.

  5. eric
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I believe one of the reasons the AZ program withstood challenge is because, while religious fundies were (ab)using the system, what they did could also be done by anyone else. E.g., the law also allowed atheists to get that same tax credit by creating a charitable ‘scholarship’ that had pro-atheist stipulations about what (and who) the money could fund. So there was no religious preference, or preference of religion over non-religion.

    I also seem to recall that the AZ program explicitly said that money couldn’t go to the donator’s kid. There were easy ways around it – Alice could create a tax-free ‘scholarship’ with stipulations that only Bob’s kid could meet, and Bob could then do the reverse – but Alice’s kids were explicitly excluded from any tax-free scholarship Alice created.

  6. Posted May 23, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Pulling this out of the back of my mind (warning I may be completely wrong):

    There was already a case about this and SCOTUS ruled that offering tax credits to fund private and likley religious schools is constitutional. While the plaintiffs argued that a tax credit was fundamentally different from a tax deduction (and I agree with them), the Court ruled that they were basically the same. And if people can deduct money given to a Church, then they can get tax credits for the same.

  7. darrelle
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    “Only the partisan and malevolent Bushie Supreme Court could make a ruling like that. I only hope a Kitzmiller v. Dover case doesn’t come up before them. And it will be a long time before the conservative members start dying off.”

    Yeah. This is precisely what Eddie Tabash hilighted as the most worrisome issue years ago. We are real close to hell on earth with the Supreme Court right now. One more staunch religious conservative and we are in deep(er) shit.

    “The Great Depression, one says, was exaggerated to move the country toward socialism, and it described “The Grapes of Wrath” as propaganda.”

    Wow. Haven’t heard that one before. Bald faced liars. There is no way that the people who started that bit of revisionism actually believed it. These people behave in a reprehensible manner and use religion as a shield. They are disgusting and deserve no respect whatsoever.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 23, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      huh. My embedded url, behind “hilighted” did not materialize. If interested copy and paste this

      “http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=tabash_21_2″

  8. ForCarl
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    These tax credits come right off the top of the education funding in states as they are dollar for dollar credits, ususally up to $2000. Thus this whole scheme is a big hit to public school funding AND it’s a sneaky end run around vouchers, which many state Constitutions prohibit. There is NOTHING good about these accounts. They are run by private groups who funnel the money to students after skimming off about 10% for their staff and “costs”. Most of the cash goes to religious schools that have no oversight and can kick the poor kids out any time they get too difficult to teach.

    The whole thing comes out of ALEC (look it up) and was dreamed up in their education task force and given the name The Great American Schools Act. My local state rep is a member of ALEC and he tried to introduce this in my state. It’s still in committee limbo, but I caught him on it and exposed it in a letter to the local paper.

    AZ only has this system because the court did not rule on the merits of the tax credits, but on the standing of the taxpayers who brought suit against it.

  9. Newman
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been reading a lot about these issues lately, as education “reform” has been the local headline recently here in Louisiana, and vouchers for private (religious) schools and release-time public school credit for religious classes have been in the news back at home in Alabama. Taxpayers do a lot more funding for religious education than we realize…

  10. saguhh00
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    In brazil, seventh day Adventist schools have started to teach only creationism.

    *sigh*

  11. Smith Powell
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    One of the most depressing articles that you have posted. I am at a loss for words. What are we doing to our children? What are the values espoused here?

  12. Posted May 23, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    I was wondering when this article would show up on one of the atheist blogs. I’m a resident alien (English) not schooled in the finer points of US constitutional law, and the bit I can’t get my head around is: how does this escape the 1st amendment? Sure, it’s all done through private individuals and foundations, but it depends on people being given a tax credit. This is tantamount to the government giving those people money. Isn’t it? Apparently not to the Supremes. Can someone explain?

  13. Posted May 23, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Aargh. Sorry. Website, not blog. My apologies to Dr. Coyne.

  14. Posted May 23, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, I was going to tweet this link to you last night, but forgot to. http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/story/11129467/
    NC is introducting one of these tax credit bills. Guess who really wants it to pass?

    Victory Christian Center School principal Michael Pratt and other members of its affiliated church in Charlotte attended the rally and planned to lobby lawmakers for the proposal.

    The school’s enrollment is down too, so they really want it.

    Here’s more:

    Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, noted that hundreds of thousands of the state’s 1.5 million public school students fail to keep up with their peers on standardized tests, a sign that smaller classes and more attention at private schools could help..

    Gee, maybe if they funded public schools properly, we’d already have that. They are out to destroy public education.

    This is the same legislature, led by Republicans who took over last year, that put Amendment One up for public vote two weeks ago.

    I do hope this won’t pass. Our schools’ budgets have been cut badly and this won’t help.

    • Posted May 23, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      Oh and by the way, notice how they say this is supposed to help low-income children. I find that hard to believe, but I’ll look into that more.

    • Posted May 23, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      OK, I got more info on the bill HB 1104: http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2011&BillID=hb1104&submitButton=Go

      Eligibility for low-income students is that the family’s income does not exceed 225% of the federal poverty level. That’s $34K for a two person family like mine.

      From the bill:
      (4)
      Eligible students. – A student who has not yet received a high school diploma and who meets all of the following requirements:

      1. Whose enrollment status is one of the following:
      a. Was a full-time student at a public school during the previous semester.
      b. Received a scholarship from an eligible scholarship-funding organization during the previous school year.
      c. Is entering kindergarten or the first grade.

      And

      2. Belongs to a household with an income level not in excess of two hundred twenty-five percent (225%) of the federal poverty level.

      So that’s it, they don’t have to be too poor and can be at any school-age.

      (I hope the formatting ends up OK here–one day maybe we’ll have a preview button)

  15. Thanny
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Scalia is 76 and Kennedy (the often-stupid swing vote) is 75. The odds that one will die or retire in the next four years (I’m assuming Obama wins) are not trivial.

  16. Jeff D
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    I saw only one reference to a federal income tax charitable deduction in the Times article: “Depending on their tax bracket, some donors could actually come out ahead by filing for a federal charitable deduction as well as the state credit.”

    Donors whose own children attend these private schools had better be damned careful about claiming a federal income tax charitable deduction for what they donate by means of these state-law scams. Federal law can unfortunately permit all sorts of idiotic, counter-productive policies under state law unless a federal court can be convinced that the state policies violate the Constitution or existing federal law (Supremacy Clause). But if a parent donates money through one of these private “foundations” (even if the foundation has 501(c)(3) status) and if that parent’s child derives any benefit at all from a scholarship funded by that foundation, a federal charitable income tax deduction should not be available because of the private inurement/private benefit rule.

    In my opinion, any tax advisor who advises or allows his or her client to claim a federal charitable deduction in this situation (where the client’ own children receive a scholarship) is probably committing malpractice. If the private charitable group is a private foundation for federal tax purposes, the group and its managers could be hit with substantial and punitive federal excise taxes on “taxable expenditures” under Code section 4945 if the scholarship grant program does not satisfy detailed requirements and if close relatives of donors could qualify for scholarships.

  17. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    When I was an undergrad at Univ Pennsylvania, some fellow transferred in from a Catholic college in Boston and wanted to transfer credits. Penn’s religion department accepted his church history course, but notably NOT his theology course. Penn’s religion department taught a “history of Christian thought”, but the Boston Catholic school taught theology entirely out of Catholic dogma as revealed truth.

    Likewise, Stanford is correct not to accept for credit high school biology courses taught from a creationist perspective.

    This still doesn’t address the federal funding issue.

  18. Nonimus
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    First, I agree that this is ridiculous.

    However, wasn’t the Judge in Kitzmiller trial a “Bushie” appointee?


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  1. [...] do private vouchers pay for anyway? Jerry Coyne talks about a New York Times article and notes, among other things, that some of these private schools teach creationism: And look at this nifty piece of rationalizing: Mr. Arnold, the headmaster of the Covenant [...]

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