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.