Politico has produced a major report on the increasing use of publicly financed school voucher programs to send tax money to private schools that teach creationism. Arkansas isn’t numbered in the movement — yet.
The Politico lede:
Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies.
Now a major push to expand these voucher programs is under way from Alaska to New York, a development that seems certain to sharply increase the investment.
The number of students with private school vouchers has increased 30 percent since 2010 and some 26 states are reportedly looking to get into voucher programs.
Arkansas has been resistant to voucher programs historically, but not for lack of effort. Legislators have already introduced “scholarship” legislation — essentially a voucher program in which taxpayers can send their tax money to support private schools students, rather than general revenue. The Walton-financed lobbying for expansion of school “choice” has produced an explosion in charter schools and a ten-fold increase in students that may get money to support home schooling. Home schoolers frequently rely on conservative Christian education curriculum. All this prepares the ground for a movement to vouchers. Portability of public money was always the top aim of the “choice” movement, but public resistance — on account of defense of local public schools — sent the movement to charters as a quasi-private, but publicly financed, alternative. Until now, religious schools have been unable to tap into that money in Arkansas.
Of course, vouchers aren’t necessary to open a backdoor to teaching of creationism. Responsive Education Solutions, which now has approval to run or help run seven charter schools in Arkansas, has organizationsl roots among conservative Christian political activists. The school management company’s biology curriculum was so slanted toward creationism that it made amendments after a complaint was made over teaching materials in Arkansas. Responsive Ed will operate the new Quest charter middle school in West Little Rock, if it can overcome neighbors’ objections to putting a school with a 490-student potential enrollment on a quiet cul de sac just off one of Little Rock’s busiest thoroughfares, Financial Center Parkway. There’s some irony in establishment of a school with biology instruction skeptical of evolution in Little Rock. The city was site of a landmark case by a Little Rock school teacher who challenged a state ban on teaching evolution. Later came the landmark creation science case, which made it clear public schools couldn’t teach religion in place of science.
But experts who’ve visited Arkansas schools have reported over the years that many public schools — if they don’t defy the law as a North Little Rock teacher did recently — avoid the subject by not mentioning evolution rather than risk upsetting communities dominated by churches.
An increasing Republican majority, with a strong conservative Christian base, likely means more push for vouchers for religious schools in Arkansas. Court rulings that might stand in the way aren’t likely to deter this majority, as a recent unconstitutionally adopted tax break for frackers demonstrates. They’ll call it “clarification.”