The Louisiana legislature narrowly passed a new education spending bill last week that allows students in low-performing districts to pay for private school tuition using state-funded vouchers.
The new provisions for funding private and parochial schools has quickly devolved into a war of words over religion. Even though millions of dollars are being made available to dozens of schools with overt religious agendas, some Republicans balked at the last minute when it was revealed that a private Islamic school had also applied for 38 vouchers under the new program:
Rep. Kenneth Havard, R-Jackson, objected to including the Islamic School of Greater New Orleans in a list of schools approved by the education department to accept as many as 38 voucher students. Havard said he wouldn’t support any spending plan that “will fund Islamic teaching.”
“I won’t go back home and explain to my people that I supported this,” he said.
The Islamic School of Greater New Orleans has since withdrawn its request for vouchers. But Havard’s concern for religious teaching being funded by taxpayer dollars seems to extend only so far. Reuters reported earlier this month that some of the parochial schools that stand to benefit the most intersperse biblical teachings directly into math, science and reading curricula, often at the expense of an actual education.
New Living World, which says it can accept more than 300 vouchers, is one such school. The campus has no library, and classrooms are often adorned with little more than a TV on which biblically-themed DVDs recite the day’s lesson. Another, The Upperroom Bible Church Academy, is housed in a windowless building with no playground. They can accept more than 200 students, and would stand to receive as much as $1.8 million. Eternity Christian Academy (135 vouchers) doesn’t permit the teaching of evolution.
The $3.4 billion bill helps fund the state’s entire education system, which affects more than 700,000 Louisiana students. Two of the state’s largest teachers’ unions say they are already exploring legal options to challenge the constitutionality of the new law.