Home > Uncategorized > Pence’s Vouchers Offer STEM Programs that Feature Dragons and Dinosaurs Coexisting with Humans

Pence’s Vouchers Offer STEM Programs that Feature Dragons and Dinosaurs Coexisting with Humans

December 9, 2016

As I watch the Trump cabinet take shape, I become more and more concerned about the future of schools in our nation. As I’ve noted in previous blog posts, every advance in racial and economic injustice is like to be set back… and this article in Mother Jones makes me think that our basic understanding of evolutionary science, biology, and history are in peril. Stephanie Mencimer’s article is titled “Mike Pence’s Voucher Program in Indiana Was a Windfall for Religious School”… but the subtitle is even more chilling:

Creationists, Catholics and a madrasa all received taxpayer funding.

One could read that and react that Mr. Pence’s program should be praised for NOT discriminating in favor of one religion over another… or you might react the way I did and ask: “How could ANY public funding be used for ANY of these purposes?” 

In keeping with the usual “reform” palaver, the vouchers were originally introduced by then Governor Mitch Daniels in 2011 as a means of giving poor children an opportunity to escape from failing government schools. As Ms. Mencimer recounts the initial launch:

“Social justice has come to Indiana education,” Daniels declared after the voucher legislation passed. It was supposed to be a small program, initially capped at 7,500 vouchers. Full vouchers, worth 90 percent of the per-pupil spending in a school district, were reserved for families with incomes up to 100 percent of the cutoff for free or reduced-price school lunch, about $45,000 a year for a family of four.

After two years and change in the Governorship, the program was radically broadened to include children from virtually all Indiana families and provided them with vouchers to virtually all Indiana schools:

in 2013, Pence and the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature raised the income limits on the program so that a family of four with up to $90,000 in annual income became eligible for vouchers covering half their private school tuition. They also removed most requirements that students come from a public school to access the vouchers, making families already attending private school eligible for tuition subsidies, thus removing any pretense that the vouchers were a tool to help poor children escape failing schools.

But the section of the article that is especially problematic to me was the one that described how the deregulation of standards led to the public funding of scientifically incorrect information as well as the funding of madrasas that support the teachings of Islamic fundamentalists:

Indiana’s choice law prohibits the state from regulating the curriculum of schools getting vouchers, so millions of dollars of the state education budget are subsidizing schools whose curricula teaches creationism and the stories and parables in the Bible as literal truth. Among the more popular textbooks are some from Bob Jones University that are known for teaching that humans and dinosaurs existed on the Earth at the same time and that dragons were real. BJU textbooks have also promoted a positive view of the KKK, writing in one book, “the Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross to target bootleggers, wife beaters and immoral movies.”

Other Indiana Christian voucher schools use the A Beka program, whose history books are known for whitewashing slavery. An A Beka passage on slavery notes, “A few slave holders were undeniably cruel. Examples of slaves beaten to death were not common, neither were they unknown. The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well.” (For a comprehensive look at both curricula, see here.)

The Indiana Christian Academy uses curricula from both Bob Jones and A Beka while Kingsway Christian School in Avon, Indiana, spends some of its taxpayer money to take kids on field trips to the Creation Museum in Kentucky, where they can learn how dinosaur bones prove the truth of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood. Teaching creationism as fact in public or charter schools is illegal because of First Amendment prohibitions on the government advocating religion, but there’s nothing stopping schools funded with public vouchers from doing it.

If you want to know what is wrong with deregulation in terms of financial oversight, look to Ohio and Michigan. If you want to know what is wrong with deregulating educational standards, look to Indiana. And if you want to see where public education could be headed, look at all of the above and the programs in place in any one of the 35 states currently governed by Republicans. It isn’t a pretty picture, even if one wants to measure schools based on standardized tests, as Mencimer notes:

Perhaps not surprisingly, the kids in these (religiously affiliated) schools aren’t performing very well on the state’s standardized tests, putting voucher schools among the state’s worst-performing schools. The three campuses of Horizon Christian Academy rank near the bottom. Two of its schools were once for-profit charter schools that lost their charters because they were badly underperforming. They reconstituted as private religious schools and now take taxpayer-funded vouchers. In 2015, less than 9 percent of the students at one of the Horizon campuses passed the state standardized tests in math and English, a rate worse than most of the state’s public schools from which the vouchers were supposed to provide an escape.

study by researchers at Notre Dame University published last year shows that in the first three years of the program, Indiana kids who left public schools to attend voucher schools saw their math scores decline in comparison with their peers who remained in regular public schools. The public school students saw improvements in their English skills, but the voucher kids’ results stayed flat. The voucher schools can’t necessarily blame low test scores on poverty, either. According to data from the state, today more than 60 percent of the voucher students in Indiana are white, and more than half of them have never even attended any public school, much less a failing one. Some of the fastest growth in voucher use has occurred in some of the state’s most affluent suburbs. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a Chicago-based think tank, recently concluded that because white children’s participation in the voucher program dwarfed the next largest racial group by 44 points, the vouchers were effectively helping to resegregate public schools.

But President elect Trump doesn’t care about poor children and doesn’t care bout public education. In his world, and that of his Vice President, all that matters is making everything “public” into a market competition.

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