By Joseph L. Conn
America’s public school system and the constitutional separation of church and state are under relentless assault.
Yesterday the Indiana House voted 55-43 in favor of House Bill 1003, a measure that broadly funds religious and other private schools. The multi-million-dollar program sets up a new school voucher scheme, expands a tax credit program and offers tax deductions for the costs of private education and homeschooling.
The bill now goes to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ desk, and he is certain to sign it. Daniels was a chief promoter of the package, and he clearly wants to force taxpayers to fund religious education. He is the founder and driving force behind The Oaks Academy, a “Christ-centered” private school in Indianapolis. Daniels sometimes poses as a moderate, but his education plan is anything but.
Make no mistake. This is not about “education reform.” This is part of national drive to radically privatize education. Indiana is just one of many states where mega-bucks foundations and sectarian interest groups are demanding taxpayer dollars for parochial and other private schools. Their long-term goal to shut down the public school system or leave it so damaged that its role in American life is minimal.
In October 2010, Religious Right godfather Tim LaHaye addressed the Council for National Policy about his goals for education. (The secretive CNP, as you probably know, is the premier meeting place for Religious Right zealots, TV preachers, right-wing fat cats and others who want to take America back to the Dark Ages.) He viciously mischaracterized the public schools and issued a call to arms for the CNP and its allies to remake them.
“I have a pet concern,” said LaHaye, the fundamentalist preacher and “Left Behind” author who founded the CNP. “And I think it is the concern of everyone in this room; and that is we are being destroyed in America by the public school systems of our country. And it was Abraham Lincoln who said, essentially, let me educate the children of this generation and they will be the political leaders of the next generation.
“And, folks, we have let the enemy come in and take over the greatest school system in the history of the world. At one time, Noah Webster was the school master of America, a dedicated Christian who founded people on the Word of God and principles of God. And I’d like to see you join me in prayer that God would let us wrestle control of the American school system from the secularists, the anti-Christians and anti-Americans that want to bend the minds of our children.
“At our expense, they want to take the most priceless thing we have – the brains of our children – and let them educate them. They educate the teachers, they provide the textbooks, and we give them the most precious things we have. That doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m hoping that this conservative movement will be long enough to get a majority who can vote what I consider a new bill of rights – a bill of parental rights where parents can decide where to send their children to school.”
Touting “biblically based education,” LaHaye concluded that ideology is the answer to education reform, not additional funding.
“May I suggest,” he said, that “more money is not what they need, it is a better ideology, and we have already got it.”
LaHaye’s take on public schools is, of course, a pack of lies. Our school system is not secularist or anti-Christian or anti-American. It welcomes children of all faiths (and none). Nobody is turned away from the door, regardless of religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, family background, disability or economic situation. And those schools are generally governed by elected school boards, whose members represent their diverse communities.
But LaHaye’s screed serves an important purpose. It gives us the master plan that he and other right-wing ideologues are pursuing. That’s why we have raging battles over vouchers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and a host of other states. (And it’s why House Speaker John Boehner strong-armed through Congress a federal taxpayer-funded voucher scheme in the District of Columbia.)
LaHaye and his cronies hate America’s vitally important public school system. He wants to shut it down and move to a “choice” system where taxpayers subsidize private schools that are accountable only to the sponsoring clergy and are free to indoctrinate children in their “biblically based” ideology. They don’t want to improve public education, as they sometimes claim; they want to destroy it.
LaHaye is not alone in this battle. Betsy DeVos, the infamous Koch brothers and other wealthy members and supporters of the CNP are funding the nationwide attack on public schools and church-state separation today. Don’t be fooled. They often put forward bogus “parents groups,” to serve as front operations, but it’s they who are calling the shots.
Wake up, America. This radical movement is on the verge of triumph. Let your legislators and members of Congress know how you feel before it’s too late.