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Former exorcist and current Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has (to quote the Friendly Atheist) “pushed for a voucher program that would allow state funds to be used to pay for religious schools.” The Friendly Atheist is not so keen on the idea (he believes it to be unconstitutional), but I’m inclined to be more relaxed. A little mumbo jumbo is a cheap price to pay for a good education. Religious schools in this country (and elsewhere) have a long record of delivering an education that can be of lower cost and higher quality than that provided for in the state system. And they also have a long and shameful record, not least in corners of the Islamic world, as perpetrators of ignorance and division.

The key is regulation. To secure eligibility for voucher-status, religious schools, and what they teach (not too much mumbo jumbo, please, admission for both sexes, and members of all faiths and of none, and so on), would have to go through a tough vetting both to begin with and, say, annually. And, if the experience in the UK is anything to go by, you’d probably need to vet the vetters too. I don’t know whether Gov. Jindal’s legislation provides for all this or not, but, in any event, it would be unlikely to be enough for one Louisiana (Republican) lawmaker. Valarie Hodges.

Livingston Parish News takes up the story:

WATSON — Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools.

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said…HB976, now signed into law as Act 2, proposed, among other things, a voucher program allowing state educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups…Hodges, who represents District 64 on the northwest side of the parish, and another freshman lawmaker in the local delegation, Clay Schexnayder from Dist. 81 in the southwest, voted with the House majority in favor of HB976.

The school funding mechanism, however, did not come up for a vote until the end of the session. By then, a Muslim-based school had applied for support through the new voucher system.

During debate over the MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) funding formula, Hodges learned more about the consequences of the educational changes. She voted against the new MFP funding formula; Schexnayder voted for it.

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said.

Oh dear. I’m not necessarily opposed to (mild, constructive, gently patriotic, and minimally superstitious) state religions, but I suspect—well over two centuries into the First Amendment—that the time for that in the US may have passed.

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  • cynthia curran · July 8, 2012 at 3:35 am

    Well, I believe there are two secular right countries. Estonia is one of the least religous countries but followed Milton Friedman and has a flat tax of 21 percent. Czech Republic is another former communist country that developed fast and is indifferent to religion. In the west, particulary in the States maybe since Christianity can be for the underdog its harder for the Republican Party to try to do what Estonia did.

  • Kevin S. · July 8, 2012 at 4:37 am

    One of the criticisms of Jindal’s voucher programs has been that there are absolutely no standards for religious schools. According to Reuters:

    “To date, private schools have not had to give their students state standardized tests, so there’s no straightforward way for parents to judge their performance. Starting next year, any student on a voucher will have to take the tests; each private school must report individual results to parents and aggregate results to the state.

    The 47-page bill setting up the voucher program does not outline any consequences for private schools that get poor test scores. Instead, it requires the superintendent of schools to come up with an “accountability system” by Aug. 1. Once he does, the system cannot be altered except by legislative vote.

    White would not say whether he is prepared to pull vouchers from private schools that do poorly on tests.”

    As of now, there’s no government punishment for private schools with poor test scores, and there’s no indication whether there’s any transparent mechanism for posting private school test scores for parents. The atheist/secular community has thus become upset because it seems that Governor Jindal and the Louisiana legislature are holding private (and especially religious) schools to a lower standard than public schools, which risk losing their students to the voucher program if their scores are low.

  • Kevin S. · July 8, 2012 at 4:38 am

  • John · July 9, 2012 at 1:29 am

    I agree that the key here is standards. Religious schools should be held to the same standards as secular schools. To give preference to religious schools violates the “establishment of religion” clause, and to discriminate against them violates the “free practice” clause.

    Believing that parents should generally get to decide how their kids are educated, I’d make state standards and regulation of public schools pretty light. And, no federal standards. At all.

  • sg · July 14, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    “To date, private schools have not had to give their students state standardized tests, so there’s no straightforward way for parents to judge their performance.”

    That is bull. The state standardized tests are crap anyway. Private schools give the national standardized tests like Stanford and Iowa. If the school average is somewhere at or above the 50th %ile, the school is probably fine. Most private schools score higher than the 50the %ile. In fact, if your kid takes the Stanford at a private school, the testing company also prints his %ile among private schooled students. Unless Jr. gets a perfect score, his private %ile is lower than his national %ile.

  • sg · July 14, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    “As of now, there’s no government punishment for private schools with poor test scores, and there’s no indication whether there’s any transparent mechanism for posting private school test scores for parents.”

    Unfortunately there is also no punishment for public schools that do poorly either.

    Also, what if you don’t have great students? In some Louisiana parishes, averaging the 45th %ile might be getting max blood from the proverbial turnip.

    Great teachers will not get more blood from the turnip. There is no way to make all students above average. Better to use the standard practice of special ed and test the IQ of a low performing student and see if it matches his achievement. If it does, then the school is doing what it can to meet his educational needs.



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