Separation of Church and State and DeVos

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Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby Dave Roberts » Tue May 22, 2018 9:52 am

This situation curdles my stomach as one who believes in the First Amendment and in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

http://bjconline.org/education-secretar ... on-051618/
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Re: Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby JE Pettibone » Tue May 22, 2018 11:02 am

Ed : I have to admit I get confused when trying to follow this discussion and am not real sure what the issue here really is. COuld some one simplify it for me.
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Re: Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby Dave Roberts » Tue May 22, 2018 12:33 pm

JE Pettibone wrote:Ed : I have to admit I get confused when trying to follow this discussion and am not real sure what the issue here really is. COuld some one simplify it for me.


For me, the issue is simply whether it is right to take public money and use it for the establishment of religion. To give to a type of religious school harkens back to the debate in which Baptists and others were engaged in the early 20th century over allowing tax money to be given to Catholic parochial schools.
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Re: Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby Sandy » Tue May 22, 2018 2:20 pm

The problem with the argument is that the opinion about whether it is right or wrong depends on who is getting the money. Give "public money" to a Christian day school, elementary, middle and high school, and it's a problem. Give it to a school like Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Gonzaga, Baylor, SMU, or Furman, and you get arguments against it from a different set of opponents. I have trouble understanding the difference. The amount of "public money" that goes to fund private, religious-based education through various title programs is significantly large. The Pell Grant program, which is exactly the kind of distribution that almost all existing and proposed school voucher programs are modeled after, provides up to 60% of the tuition and fees collected at schools like these. There are two Christian based, church-owned colleges within 20 miles of where I live that claim up to 80% of their tuition money comes through the Pell Grant program.

Private, religious-based schools have been able to provide special services under several Title 1 programs in the past couple of decades. No one really seems to object to it when the recipients are Episcopal schools, Catholic schools or Lutheran schools. My school, which is private, and denominationally affiliated, does not utilize Title 1 funding, but accepts Title 2, 2a, and various state acts which provide for families of students to contract with our resource education program, which has earned a reputation for effectiveness and quality, and pays their tuition and fees to attend here to access those services. And since riding a school bus was deemed to be a religiously neutral activity several years ago, the state can pay for bus transportation for students regardless of where they attend school.

If there's going to be a sharp divide on this, then families who opt out of the tax supported, public education system should not have to pay taxes to support a system they don't use, and which they see as a waste of money and time. Church-based, religious-based educational systems are a major provider of educational services, and major contributors, beyond their size and scope, to a higher academic achievement than would exist otherwise.
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Re: Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby Dave Roberts » Wed May 23, 2018 7:02 am

Sandy, I appreciate your analysis from the front lines of education. The one thing that is required of all the various "Title" programs is that they are made available without regard for the kind of religion taught in each school and are specifically not to be used for the promotion of religion itself. DeVos seems to be veering from this carefully neutrality in the Title programs to giving preferred promotion to those she likes. That is what stirs me from a religious liberty point of view. It may be that she does not understand the neutrality requirements in the legislation, but her attacks on the establishment clause are frightening to me.
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Re: Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby Sandy » Wed May 23, 2018 12:09 pm

I don't see a specific indication in DeVos' remarks that demonstrates favorability of any particular religion or religious belief when it comes to her advocacy for the distribution of public funds. She's come down on the side of school choice programs such as the traditional "voucher" or "savings account" plans offered in some states, and those don't favor any particular religious belief or persuasion. I'd be opposed to any form of favoritism based on religious beliefs for any program funded by the DOE.

The title programs are somewhat difficult to maneuver in this regard, and they are designated to special programs in most cases. But if a family has a child with special needs requiring accommodations and modifications, and the provision of services in order to learn, and the state has provided these resources, why shouldn't that family be able to get those services from anyone who provides them? Almost all of the kids in our resource education program are here because things they see as necessary to their children's learning experience, like smaller groups, more individual attention, a staff trained in differentiated instruction, and competent instruction, were not being provided for them in the public school setting. It's hard to draw a line between the provision of educational services and "promoting religion" since all of the students in our resource program also have Bible class and are required to attend chapel each week. I just don't see how that makes any difference with regard to distribution of funds, the students are getting all that the title funds pay for here.

But the title programs are only a small part of the public dollars that flow to the schools I mentioned, and others. The source is public money, but a student can qualify to receive a pell grant, take that to a denominational related college, such as Baylor, or Furman, or Wake Forest, and use it to major in Biblical studies in preparation for being a minister. The only restriction on the college for helping students qualify for a pell grant is that they are accredited, and that they do not discriminate when it comes to EEOC, or civil rights law. Religious schools can sign off on that, even if they require professors to be of a certain faith group or denomination, because there is a first amendment religious exemption which applies to all such distributions of "public money." The ESA proposal that just passed the Pennsylvania senate this week is modeled after the Pell program. It is income based, has a top value limit on the dollar amount any single student can receive in a year, and goes directly to the student or their parents, to use at any provider that qualifies, at their discretion. There's no favoring of any particular religion in that plan.
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Re: Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby Dave Roberts » Wed May 23, 2018 3:46 pm

I wonder how DeVos would respond to a request for Title funds for a Muslim or Hindu school if it were to meet accreditation standards. Her particular focus seemed to be on the Blaine Amendments that are part of the state constitutions of 37 states. I see no problem with most of the Title funds or the Pell Grants except that the Pell Grants are not sufficiently policed to prevent students from applying and receiving them, then withdrawing from school and requesting a refund of remaining funds in their accounts. I hear in DeVos a drive to overturn the First Amendment's establishment clause by allowing state contributions for religious purposes which is the European state church model.
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Re: Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby Sandy » Fri May 25, 2018 9:12 pm

Dave Roberts wrote:I wonder how DeVos would respond to a request for Title funds for a Muslim or Hindu school if it were to meet accreditation standards. Her particular focus seemed to be on the Blaine Amendments that are part of the state constitutions of 37 states. I see no problem with most of the Title funds or the Pell Grants except that the Pell Grants are not sufficiently policed to prevent students from applying and receiving them, then withdrawing from school and requesting a refund of remaining funds in their accounts. I hear in DeVos a drive to overturn the First Amendment's establishment clause by allowing state contributions for religious purposes which is the European state church model.


I see DeVos' remarks focused on voucher programs or ESA programs, which are similar to Pell Grants. That's what's been on the table in most places, passed and been through court muster in a few. The principle is to give a family the dollar amount provided by their state and federal taxes and let them use that money to purchase educational services from whomever they choose, whether its a private, charter or public school. Among other things, that would permit students to seek schools outside of a school district defined by residence, at a charter school or any other type of public educational option (cyber academies) in addition to private schools of various types, including Catholic, Christian, or Muslim or secular. The comparison with a Pell Grant related to getting such plans past a court scrutiny. Pell Grants give money directly to students rather than schools, and the theory behind the money in a voucher is the same, give the money to the parents, not the school, and there's no constitutional issue because the money isn't contributing state money to religious purposes, it is giving it back to its source.
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Re: Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby William Thornton » Sat May 26, 2018 3:56 am

...which puts old friend Sandy in the odd position of agreeing with the Trump admin on something, but then he's involved in private school administration. I generally agree on this but with more caution than in previous years. Pell grants, and one of my kids qualified and received one in only single year out of the dozen or so they were in college, are liked GI Bill. They only go to secondary education. There are a few obvious differences in such grants being applied to primary education. The whole thing is complex...which puts me on the fence here.

Reminds me of an incident almost 30 years ago where a private, Christian school headmaster assured parents, including me, that vouchers would solve a lot of the school's financial problems. Needless to say time passed and the gummit money spigot was never opened. That was a crappy school that certainly didn't need to be propped up by gummit funding.
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Re: Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby Sandy » Sat May 26, 2018 9:27 am

The Trump Administration, represented by DeVos' remarks, has no plans on the table for school choice. That's just rhetoric. I am part of a group of Christian school administrators nationally, about 20 of us, who visit Washington each September with a specific slate of conferences and visits with DOE people, Congressmen and Senators, mostly their aides, to represent our interests. Right now, the DOE protocol is the ESSA, and will be through 2020. DeVos' chief aid told us, much to the disappointment of the administrators in the room, that there is nothing in the administration's agenda for any kind of school choice at the federal level through 2019. Their big plan to replace the ESSA when it expires is a Charter School for Profit scheme. The Trump administration's position, represented by DeVos, is to keep the wealthy who can afford to send their kids to private school from having to pay for it by spreading the resources out "equally." I'm not on that bandwagon. I'd like to see a model based on the DC opportunity scholarship program, where a specific need is addressed, and the grants are given based on both income level and student performance in the private school they attend. That was a bi-partisan initiative, and it worked. The Trump administration would never go for something like that, though.
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Re: Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby KeithE » Sat May 26, 2018 2:31 pm

Dave Roberts wrote:This situation curdles my stomach as one who believes in the First Amendment and in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

http://bjconline.org/education-secretar ... on-051618/


I’ll register here, that this issue (strict separation of church and state) does not really “curdle my stomach”. Yeah ideally, school vouchers, educational savings accounts, and Pell Grants, should not end up being predominantly given to any particular religious group (and thus should be monitored). So if the Devos administration's (or any states program's) school vouchers starts to ask where the voucher is to be used and/or they start to be preferentially given to right-wing Christians schools due to the hysteria of public schools being anti-Christian, I would have a problem. And I dislike what vouchers can do to our public school systems. But good still comes from educating students even in the most rigid fundamentalist school or for example in a Muslim school. Pell Grants I have no problem with - adults can choose where they want to go.

So my attitude (maybe somewhat like Sandy’s) is the school voucher/private school movement is not (at this time) harming America. My blood is not curdling yet. But it deserves watching.

All this pales against much bigger problems we are facing today, like:

1. Trump's sustained attacks on American rights,our Constitution, our Rule of Law, and Democracy itself, and

2. Trump's and Pruitt's Full-Blown Anti-Environment Assault

And the more longstanding (pre-Trump but continuing) problems of:

3. Income Inequality in the US in particular (will be exasperated due to tax cut bill)
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4. Increasing Financial Sector (with little to show for it, except for Wall Street elites)
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5. Growth of Incarceration especially among Afro-Americans
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6. Continuing and Overemphasized War on Terror (only making matters worse)
Last edited by KeithE on Mon May 28, 2018 7:25 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Separation of Church and State and DeVos

Postby Sandy » Sun May 27, 2018 7:04 pm

In spite of DeVos, who doesn't express herself well, I don't think there's anyone among school choice advocates who is seeking money exclusively for a particular religious persuasion. Here in Pennsylvania, we work with CAPE, the Council on American Private Education, and that includes schools affiliated with Catholic Conference, a wide variety of Evangelical denominations and independent churches and schools, the Episcopalian schools, Lutheran school associations, the Eastern Orthodox schools, the NAIS schools which are mainly non-religious, independent, academic oriented academies, the Fundamentalist schools, the Quakers, who run some of the top academic schools in the country in the inner cities, and the Hebrew Education Association.

Almost any research you can find will show you that students in religious-based private schools perform significantly better than their peers in the public school system, and it isn't because we exclude the low performers, or "cheat" the system. Perhaps the best model for a voucher program in the country is the DC Opportunity Scholarship program, which has allowed thousands of students from what were once pitifully poor performing schools in Washington go to the city's private schools, including those like Sidwell Friends, National Cathedral, St Albans, and succeed at rates not that far below the kids whose wealthy parents paid the tuition. I believe that every family should be able to choose their children's school based on their criteria, whether that is the inclusion of their religious beliefs in the curriculum, or higher quality academics, or a particular career or educational program, and not be bound by geographic lines to the monopoly public school that may not work for them. The low performing school in a neighboring county in our area is detrimental to the students who graduate from there in terms of opportunity in college admission. And the expense of either a private school, tuition at a neighboring school district, or relocation, is not an option for most of the district's residents.
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