Religious Freedom Bill: Can it pass the Lemon Test?

There are two bills in the Florida legislature ‘that purport to support’  freedom of religious expression in schools.  Federal and state constitutions already support religious expression.  Why does Florida need a law?

SB 436 requires districts to comply with federal requirements in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Is there a need for a law to guarantee rights that are already protected in the constitution?  This new law prohibits,

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Religion in schools, how much is too much?

by Pat Drago

For many of us, our faith permeates our lives. Religion, however, not only comes in many forms, it is based on strong emotions, and controversy is as old as mankind.  In modern times, waves of immigration brought people together whose religious faiths differed.  During the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, the issue came to a head over how to teach religion in schools.  President Grant and Senator Blaine proposed a solution, keep schools and religion separate.   A U.S. constitutional amendment failed, but 38 states passed their own version of the Blaine amendment to separate church and state. Florida was one of those states.

Public opinion wafts and wanes over how best to keep a moral center for our children.  The issue has once again reached the Florida legislature when HB 303 Daniels and SB 436 Baxley were filed to allow religious expression in schools.  The bills are framed to prevent districts from penalizing parents, teachers or students who express their religious beliefs in course work, artwork, or other assignments.  The bill goes on to authorize students to pray, organize prayer groups and religious events, and states that districts may not prohibit teachers from participating in student initiated religious activities.

Pat Drago, who was a former senior executive in Volusia County schools, offers some background on the role of religion in schools.

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New Bill: More Money for Vouchers

The first of an expected onslaught of voucher or ‘voucher like’ bills has been filed:  HB15, Sullivan.  School choice can no longer be ignored.  The proponents have gone far beyond the smoke screen of helping poor children.  Some would argue that now they are helping themselves to public money.  Look at the numbers; you decide.  Is the state giving these children the education they deserve?

 

 

 

 

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Radical Change Proposed in U.S. Congress

Rep. King, R, IA filed H.R. 610, a bill which is a major assault on public education.  The bill would repeal the Education and Secondary School Act of 1965.  Instead, the U.S. DOE would award block grants to qualified states.  States would then distribute block grants to local education agencies (districts) in a manner that apportions funds to families who elect to home school or send their children to private schools.  In a word, it is a ‘voucher’ bill.

Curiously, the bill also revokes the nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch programs.

Our public schools are the backbone of our democracy.  This bill undermines an educational system that serves everyone, not just those that private schools chose to accept.  This is just the beginning of an assault on public education.  It is time to push back and keep pushing.

The Network for Public Education has an Action Alert to notify your representatives to oppose this bill.  You can access their site here.

New Education Bills

Legislation

It is early days, but education bills are emerging.  Here are two that still need Senate companion bills.

HB 253 Rep. Duran, D. Miami.  The Bright Futures Scholarship recipients must log 30 hours per year volunteer work.    already has a GPA requirement and repayment if grades fall.

HB 303 Rep. Daniels, D. Jacksonville.  The bill will allow religious expression in course work, activities, and personal attire.  School employees must be allowed to participate in religious activities.

Plan to Revise the Constitution: Take the Public Out of Public Education

Can you imagine that the Florida House and Senate would support the repeal of the Fair Districting amendments, making the redistricting process secret, as well as rescinding constitutional bans on state support for private, religious schools?   The Miami Herald reports that these are the major goals of the legislative leaders. Florida’s constitution would have to be changed, and the process is now in place.  We need to know about this; it is real.

 

 

 

 

 

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Education Law Center Tells What to Expect and What to Do

child speakingIf the Trump administration follows through on its pledge to gut public education, and the appointment of DeVos indicates it might, then it is time to circle the wagons.  Read the Education Law Center proposals on how to fight back.  In a state like Florida, we must take the case to the people; too many legislators may not listen.

 

 

 

 

What’s at stake?

  1. Civil rights enforcement; accelerated segregation

  2. Less funding for already underfunded public schools.

3. Ignoring needed charter management reform to control self dealing.

4. Shift of $20 billion in federal Title I funding from low income public schools to private sector charter and religious schools.

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November 29, 2016
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BUILDING FIREWALLS: PROTECTING PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN THE TRUMP ERA

By David G. Sciarra

With the selection of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, Donald Trump has made good on his promise to do everything possible to undermine and weaken America’s public education system. President-Elect Trump made few promises about his education agenda during the campaign, but what he did promise – $20 billion in federal funding taken from public schools to be used for private and religious school vouchers – foreshadowed his pick of a conservative billionaire who has donated considerable sums to promote charters and vouchers at the expense of the public schools and the children they serve.

Ms. DeVos’s track record in Michigan provides a clear picture of her priorities as Education Secretary. She and her husband have funded campaigns to increase the number of charter schools, including for-profit charters, especially in high poverty communities such as Detroit and Flint. They have funded this effort despite the fact that Michigan’s expansive charter sector is among the least accountable and worst performing in the nation. Ms. DeVos also bankrolled an attempt to bring vouchers to Michigan, but those efforts were stymied due to a constitutional amendment passed in 1971 prohibiting public funding for private schools.

The bottom line is this: the Trump Administration will do nothing to support public education across the country. Instead, federal funding will be used as a carrot, or perhaps a stick, to force states to accelerate the unregulated growth of charters and expand existing voucher programs or enact new ones to facilitate the flow of tax dollars from public schools to private and religious schools and other private providers.

What we can also expect is a wholesale retreat from federal enforcement of civil rights protections for vulnerable student populations, from LGBTQ to ELL students. In short, it is not an exaggeration to call the Trump-DeVos education agenda an all-out assault on our public schools, the centerpiece of which is the diversion of billions of dollars from public education to private spending.

What can the vast majority of Americans who care about public education do?

This is a good time to remind ourselves that public education has always been – and will continue to be – the obligation of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. This obligation is embedded in the guarantee of a public education in state constitutions. It is the states, not the federal government, that control access, quality, governance, student rights and the bulk of funding for their public education systems.

A storm of policy and public relations to promote educational inequity and disparity across the nation will emanate from Washington under the new administration. But if we turn our full attention to the states, we can – and must – energize existing coalitions and campaigns of parents, educators, students and community organizations to protect and defend the public schools. Let’s start now to erect state and local firewalls to safeguard our schools.

Here are a few ways we can begin:

1) We must press our congressional delegations to oppose the Trump anti-public education agenda, starting with the DeVos appointment but continuing to block other proposals, from dismantling the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to diverting Title I funding for vouchers under the guise of “portability.”

2) If a state constitution prohibits the use of public funding for other purposes, it’s time for advocates and activists to get ready to stand behind it. Some state constitutions contain such prohibitions or have been interpreted by courts to do so. If state law is unclear, it’s time to propose a law to “lockbox” and protect public school funding. Most states already underfund their public schools, and what our children don’t need is the federal government trying to divert any amount of that funding to private and religious schools.

3) This is the right time to start state-level conversations about rejecting offers of federal funding that come at the price of defunding public education and causing even more inequity and disparity of opportunity for students, especially low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners and students of color.

4) Legislative campaigns for charter school reform must be reinvigorated. In many states, an overhaul of charter school laws is long overdue to ensure full accountability with regard to student access and school performance, as well as the use of public funds. Segregation of students based on disability, the need to learn English, academic risk or other factors must be fought in statehouses, including moratoriums to prevent funding loss and student segregation resulting from uncontrolled charter growth.

5) We must review state-level student and civil rights protections and develop an agenda to strengthen that critical framework. This must include enhancing anti-discrimination and anti-bullying laws; school discipline reform; open admissions for homeless children, youth in foster care, and un-documented students; and other measures to safeguard the rights of students.

On the one hand, a Trump Administration offers the opportunity to join the many advocates laboring to ensure equal and quality education for all children in their states, often in extremely challenging political environments. On the other hand, Trump’s election is a wake-up call about a fundamental, enduring lesson: education equity advances or regresses primarily through state action on funding, essential resources and programs, and students rights. Actions taken by the federal government, even those intended to promote equity in the states, can only go so far. And sometimes those actions impede progress.

Let’s not get distracted by “inside the beltway” prognostications or rarefied debates over how bad things may be. Those of us working in the states know what’s coming. It’s time to renew and redouble efforts to protect public education in our states and communities. Millions of children are depending on us.

David G. Sciarra is Executive Director of the Education Law Center, where he serves as lead counsel in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding litigation and directs ELC’s advocacy on behalf of the nation’s public school children.

Education Law Center Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel

Policy and Outreach Director

skrengel@edlawcenter.org

973-624-1815, x 24

 

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Church vs. State: Why?

church-414889_1280 This week’s rally against the FEA lawsuit brought out 10,000 people.  If those people lived in Ireland, many would change their views.  The Catholic Church runs almost all public schools in Ireland.  It’s in their constitution.  What does this mean for non-Catholics?

In today’s New York Times, there is a report of a growing movement to separate church and state.  Here’s why:

 

 

 

 

 

  • Students must be baptized to be admitted to public school.
  • Almost all public schools are run by the Catholic Church.
  • At least 1/2 hour per day is ‘devoted’ to religious training in Catholicism.
  • Students who are not Catholic are put at the end of long waiting lists to get into school.
  • Morning prayers and preparation for the sacraments are part of the day.
  • Non Catholics seldom have any alternative place in a school to go during religious instruction.
  •  While regular church attendance is down to 14% in Dublin, parents often submit to baptism requirements to be able to enroll their children in school.
  • Non Catholic parents face long school waiting lists and long commutes.

Irish law guarantees freedom of religion in public schools, but it also allows enrollment based on religious preference.  In reality, parents have little choice.

Florida’s system of choice moves the educational system toward exclusion and religious, racial, and socioeconomic segregation.  There is a lawsuit over this in Florida.  There is also one in Ireland.  Our founding fathers recognized this problem.

We need to reaffirm the need to keep church and state separate.  When the shoe is on the other foot, as in Ireland, it hurts.

Past State Board of Education Chair Says It is all about Money!

race-653241_1280Tax credit vouchers are supposed to give poor children an option out of a failing school.  Gary Chartrand, former Chair, Florida State Board of Education, tells it like it really is.

Chartrand makes a case that getting children from poor families out of public schools saves the rest of us money.  There may be another not so hidden agenda that Chartrand forgets to mention.

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