August 15, 2013

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli has done us all a favor and put every terrible K-12 education proposal in one place so we know what to reject out of hand when someone runs for office. Cuccinelli rolled out his education plan yesterday, which one could find ahead of the rollout in the list of ALEC education proposals.

Most of The Cooch's proposals are standard right-wing union-busting ideas: More charter schools, lots of online learning, parent trigger to close so-called failing schools, and of course, the always-present "school choice" theme.

But Cooch's proposals have an extra added recipe.

First, cut the education budget by around $420 million in order to create a manufactured funding crisis at the local school district level. Districts who would suffer the deepest impact would, of course, be those schools in urban areas and underprivileged neighborhoods.

Next, repeal the Blaine Amendment which expressly prohibits religious schools and organizations from receiving state funds.

, who has blasted the Catholic Church for creating a “culture of dependency on government, not God,” proposed that Virginia should divert taxpayer funds from public education to parochial school vouchers. He claimed that the separation of church and state provisions in Article IV, Section 16 of Virginia’s constitution were merely anti-Catholic bigotry:

Virginia has provisions in its constitution that explicitly bar government aid to “sectarian” schools or institutions, including the so-called Blaine Amendment. The Blaine Amendment was passed as a result of anti-Catholic bigotry in American politics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, which made clear that the federal Constitution permits aid through school choice programs, Virginia’s Blaine Amendment restricts the ability to enact broad-based school choice programs. A state constitutional amendment is needed that is narrowly drafted to allow for school choice programs that do not restrict parents’ choices about what is best for each of their children.

This is terrible policy overall. Even churches should oppose it, because by taking state funds they're also submitting to the laws of that state. But beyond that, Mr. Cuccinelli should be very careful what he wishes for, because that wish might actually come true, just like it did in Louisiana. Whether the Cooch likes it or not, sending state money to religious schools necessarily means the state cannot pick and choose the religious schools where those funds land.

The new provisions for funding private and parochial schools has quickly devolved into a war of words over religion. Even though millions of dollars are being made available to dozens of schools with overt religious agendas, some Republicans balked at the last minute when it was revealed that a private Islamic school had also applied for 38 vouchers under the new program:

Rep. Kenneth Havard, R-Jackson, objected to including the Islamic School of Greater New Orleans in a list of schools approved by the education department to accept as many as 38 voucher students. Havard said he wouldn’t support any spending plan that “will fund Islamic teaching.”

“I won’t go back home and explain to my people that I supported this,” he said.

The Islamic School of Greater New Orleans has since withdrawn its request for vouchers. But Havard’s concern for religious teaching being funded by taxpayer dollars seems to extend only so far. Reuters reported earlier this month that some of the parochial schools that stand to benefit the most intersperse biblical teachings directly into math, science and reading curricula, often at the expense of an actual education.

I wonder if those severely conservative Virginia voters who love The Cooch so much will love the idea of funding schools that are affiliated with area mosques. When the voucher road is chosen, they're not going to be able to discriminate against what schools receive those vouchers.

Because parent choice, after all.

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