Archive for Thursday, December 15, 2005

Legality of school vouchers in dispute

Two former officials have said they violate state constitution

December 15, 2005


— Supporters of private school vouchers have extolled their virtues during a debate before the Kansas State Board of Education.

But legal opinions from two former Kansas attorneys general say vouchers for religious schools violate the state constitution, while Atty. Gen. Phill Kline says they may be used under certain circumstances.

Of four attorney general opinions dealing with vouchers, State Board of Education attorney Dan Biles says, "It's more heavily weighted toward having found that this would not pass the religious test under the state constitution."

Education Commissioner Bob Corkins, however, said his voucher proposal would pass constitutional muster. But Education Board Chairman Steve Abrams said he didn't know.

"I haven't studied it. We have not received a report. We are supposed to receive a report from the attorney (Biles) next month," Abrams said.

Under the proposal before the board, state tax funds would go toward paying tuition for students to attend private schools, including religious schools. Students eligible for the program would include those who receive free or reduced lunches, or those who score below proficient on statewide tests.

The dispute is over whether sending public tax dollars to religious schools violates the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of laws establishing a religion, and the state constitution, which bans control of public funds by religions.

Private school vouchers exist in a number of states and have been declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court as long as they are not intended to advance or inhibit religion.

But former Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall wrote in a legal opinion from 2000 that the Kansas Constitution is more restrictive than the U.S. Constitution.

She noted that the Kansas Constitution says no religious sect "shall control any part of public education funds."

Another section of the Kansas Constitution states that no person may be compelled to pay taxes "to secure or maintain a place where any form of religious worship shall be conducted."

Stovall's opinion was written in response to voucher legislation that was under consideration then, but it never passed.

Six years earlier, then-Atty. Gen. Bob Stephan said a voucher program before the Legislature violated the Kansas Constitution because it "conferred state funds upon a place where a form of religious worship is to be conducted."

But in 2004, Kline issued an opinion that an Ohio voucher plan approved by the U.S. Supreme Court would be "worthy of consideration in crafting a Kansas school voucher program" because the Kansas Constitution's religious liberty clause was similar to Ohio's.


grimpeur 12 years, 6 months ago

Hey, how bout if the board of education tries to...oh, I don't know... say, improve the state of public education in Kansas and stuff? Wow, what a concept!

Corkins really has no business being commissioner, but what do we expect from school board members as unqualified as those who appointed him? Appalling, really. I hate to think that these byzantine schmucks reflect the will of the people of Kansas, but we're unfortunate enough that they somehow convinced others to vote for them.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 6 months ago

"Corkins really has no business being commissioner, but what do we expect from school board members as unqualified as those who appointed him? Appalling, really. I hate to think that these byzantine schmucks reflect the will of the people of Kansas, but we're unfortunate enough that they somehow convinced others to vote for them."

Perhaps these folks forgot to reveal their true agenda while on the campaign trail.

bankboy119 12 years, 6 months ago

I think it's ridiculous that they would have to "convert to catholocism" in order to be accepted.

The other problem is that everyone would not be equal in their education then. The proposal basically says if you're stupid or poor we'll send you to a private institution. If you're going to send the stupid and poor kids then everyone needs to be included. Though I will say the reason they're stupid probably has something to do with state education.....

badger 12 years, 6 months ago

Nah, state education doesn't cause 'stupid'.

It can cause 'ignorant', though.

concerned_citizen 12 years, 6 months ago

It's too bad that another way to empower parents to educate their children as they see fit has to fall to anti-theistic bias.

I don't see how putting some of that horribly managed public education money back into the hands of parents, whatever their religious or anti-religious views, to send their kids to the school of their choice is anything remotely like a bad thing, constitutional or not.

That poor/minority children served only by the worst schools should suffer due to the hands of the fear and loathing of the liberal elite who shriek at the thought of one penny of their condesendingly "donated" tax money being in the vicinity of anything religious is both ludicrous and sadly typical.

Torpedo vouchers and keep the poor and minorities ignorant and undereducated, 'cause they can't be trusted to make their own decisions about how best to educate their own kids.

badger 12 years, 6 months ago

Y'know, I think that "Do what I think is right, whether it's constitutional or not," is probably one of the most dangerous statements there is.

It's not an anti-theistic bias unless you look really hard.

Would you want your condescendingly donated tax dollars to go to an excellent parochial school that taught the children Islam and required conversion? What about Buddhism? Or Satanism? What if I founded a pagan parochial school, and the students engaged in polytheistic rites as a part of each school day? The religious right would have screaming fits if their precious tax dollars were taken for that. How do I know? Because they are the same people who had screaming fits when a coven in Fort Hood wanted to use a public military non-denominational chapel for a sabbat. Their leader, who is now President, claimed that since Wicca isn't a 'real' religion that the military shouldn't have had to recognize it.

The constitution of the state of Kansas specifically forbids giving state money to facilities that perform worship services - and doesn't specify any denomination, sect, or flavor of religion, from Christianity to Shinto. I don't know that the state constitution of Kansas was written by a bunch of god-hating liberal elitists.

Do you have some confirmation of that?

Jamesaust 12 years, 6 months ago

Well, the devil's in the details, as they say. Without a written out piece of legislation, its not clear how this would come out.

A few observations however: First, the facilities clause is easily overcome. School just needs to be held in a different building. For example, the Veritas Christian School is not "a place of worship." St. Johns Catholic School may be next to the church but that is a sufficiently distinct premise. I should note that no court is going to find a morning prayer or a Biblical character coloring book as "worship."

Second, the more difficult issue will be control of funds. I am unaware of any Kansas court rulings adequately fleshing out in this context the precise meaning of "control." The dividing line will most likely come in providing the funds to the parents to pay for the private education. A decision will have to be made: does such a transfer cut the tie between the government and the religious school, or are the parents being treated as a "strawman?"

The reference to Kansas' religious restrictions being greater than the U.S. ones is not surprising. Virtually every state is more restrictive as most state constitutions were written (or re-written in the 19th century) during a period of particularly high immigration countermixed with virulent anti-Catholic bigotry - almost every state adopted what has been referred to as "Blaine Amendments" to keep monies away from minority Catholic schools. (The U.S.S.C. recently upheld such a state amendment as not violating the U.S. constitution.) This was before the U.S.S.C. discovered that references to God or prayers were forbidden in public schools - 19th century public schools were essentially majority Protestant schools.

In turn, this makes Kline's reference to Ohio puzzling. The U.S.S.C.'s finding that the Ohio plan did not violate the U.S. Constitution has nothing to do with the Ohio Constitution. There, the Ohio S.C. - the only body that can speak to what the state's constitution allows - separately upheld the voucher plan. But what Ohio does doesn't matter one fig to Kansas. Indeed, more reflection convinces me that even Phill Kline can't be that confused about this point. It must be the reporter trying to summarize a complicated issue involving two different constitutions into a single sentence.

bioteacher 12 years, 6 months ago

What schools specifically said they would accept vouchers IF students 'converted to Catholocism'? I have never heard of that and am doubting its validity. Not all students that attend a Catholic school are Catholic. Secondly, vouchers only avoid the real problem of the school system and are clearly another way for the religious right to infiltrate yet another faction of society.

badger 12 years, 6 months ago

Yeah, bioteacher, I also find myself doubting that. It may be that Catholic schools said that they'd accept voucher students provided those students took the Catholic religion courses taught at the schools or something, that got transferred to 'conversion' in the game of telephone.

I don't see vouchers as encroachment from the religious right, though, as there are plenty of great secular private schools. I see it more as a bunch of people looking at the private schools and saying, "Hey, look what they can do with their money! I want every kid to be able to have that quality of education!" and insisting that everyone have the ability to go to private school, instead of properly funding, organizing, and supporting public school.

At a private school, teachers can touch the children without worrying about breaking the rules (At my old high school these days, teachers are advised not to 'risk accusations of improper conduct' by touching, hugging, patting, or otherwise engaging in physical contact with students regardless of invitation, permission, or circumstance). At a private school, the threat of expulsion carries real teeth. At a private school, no one cries foul or insists that his child's self-esteem is being crushed if the child is held back and told he can't go to the next grade because he blew off his homework. At a private school, there is enough money for trips, and facilities, and updated resources, and for theatre programs and orchestra classes and an art curriculum. At a private school, teachers are paid what they are worth and retained or not retained based on performance, not seniority.

So I always want to ask the voucher advocates if they've considered the voucher alternative that is properly funding the schools, paying the teachers well, putting discipline back in the classrooms, keeping fine arts alive in schools, and giving school districts the right and power to stand up to parents who insist their precious darlings are exempt from policies and rules because mommy or daddy has a lawyer on speed dial.

The right (in general) has cut the funding and the fine arts programming, and the left (in general)has taken the administration's teeth. That's the problem with public schools. And if you use vouchers to turn private schools into public schools (which is essentially what it will do), it won't be very long until someone's darling's self-esteem is in the courtroom challenging a private school's right, because it accepted public funds, to fail/discipline/penalize/reprimand its students according to its own policies. And then there we go again.

bioteacher 12 years, 6 months ago

OK - well I can tell you that the myth of private schools is that they have all kinds of extra money for programs and supplies and teacher salaries. In fact, the opposite is true. While private schools are usually able to offer a more personal atmosphere - there are just as many, if not more budget constraints. There is no outside federal money available which means that all money has to come from student tuition and or donations/ fundraisers. Student tuition alone does not pay for the cost of a child's education in most cases. Public schools typically have more course offerings and also all public schools provide assistance for special education - which private schools do not.
As a teacher at a private school where one person is the art department and one person is the theater department I can tell you everyone is stretched very thin and asked to do many extra duties (even if not experienced in that field).
So the notion that private schools are just heavenly (excuse the pun) is seriously a myth. Public schools have much to offer our students if people are willing to pay a little more in taxes and if all schools were funded equally. Let's not give up and have everyone go private because it is supposedly better (compare test scores of public vs. private in johnson county) - public schools are just as good! The Kansas school board has an agenda - it is not about giving an equal education to all poor and rural kids , it is about having more kids go to a religiously affiliated school.

yourworstnightmare 12 years, 6 months ago

I read an article reporting that the University of California system refuses to recognize for admission high school science classes from certain parochial schools that emphasize creationism and ID. UC is now apparently being sued over this.

bioteacher 12 years, 6 months ago

Hmmm, have not heard that but I can see their point i guess. However, if students can pass the college admissions test I don't know how they can refuse admission. I am not sure how they would regulate that or be informed on what schools are teaching or what teachers are teaching for that matter. The fact is that I am sure there are teachers that once in their classroom with the door shut are teacing whatever they want no matter what school they are at.
So again maybe using vouchers to attend religious schools that teach pseudo - science (not all religious schools do) are not the best option. I would rather have my child go to a school that has mediocre test scores than go to a school that teaches creationism.

Kodiac 12 years, 6 months ago

Actually badger I thought the majority of private schools at the secondary level were parochial not secular. Also I disagree with your statements concerning the amount of money that private schools have at their disposal. Most private schools at least here in Kansas operate on shoe-string budgets and will often have to solicit funds from parents participating in their programs. A lot of this has to do with their small enrollments. So I imagine the larger Catholic schools are an exception to this rule.

Despite what perceptions regarding teacher salaries you may have, overall average salaries of teachers in the private sector may be equal to their public counterparts but are often lower. Private school teachers are often compensated in alternative ways such as reduced tuition for their own children to attend the private school etc.

I am not advocating a voucher system here just wanted to clarify some of the points you are trying to make.

grimpeur 12 years, 6 months ago


"creationism and ID"

Riiiight, as if the two are separate...

Country and western. H&R Block. Penn and Teller. Jekyll and Hyde. ID and religion.

Can't have one without the other. Too bad we can't return the public discussion to the fact that ID's proponents in KS are pushing a religious agenda in public schools.

Kansas public school curricula are under attack by the pro-ID SBOE majority, who are using ID to perpetrate a religious viewpoint in public schools. I think this is more newsworthy than any of the following, none of which addresses the political motivations behind or investigates the religious background of supporters of the ID movement:

Evolution in Kansas: Recent coverage

* 6News video: Mirecki hires lawyer to look into resignation
* Mirecki press release
* Professor blasts KU, sheriff's investigation
* Embattled KU professor has long history with religion
* Conservative made postings public
* KU provost says ID course needed
* Pastors condemn attack
* 6News video: Mirecki resigns from KU department post
* Mirecki resigns leadership position
* Kansas ranks last in science
* Police report
* 6News video: More information released in alleged Mirecki attack
* Mirecki mum on details of beating
* 6News video: Mirecki hospitalized after beating
* Mirecki treated after roadside beating
* K-State, others tackling intelligent design in classroom
* KU could face heat in Topeka
* Conservative critic known for inflammatory speech
* 6News video: KU professors make statement about academic freedom
* Intelligent design course canceled
* 6News video: Intelligent design class at KU canceled
* Mirecki apology doesn't appease critics

Anyone else notice anything important missing from these headlines? Perhaps:

* Comments show majority's religious intent 
* Dembski: Science is "intellectual rubbish"
* Abrams: ID or Evolution, but not both
* SBOE's Martin: ID is "Christian agenda"
* Evolution "just" a theory?  
* Is it science?  Evolution vs. ID checklist
* For ID, "science" is just not there
* For ID supporters, scientific method unneeded
* Watchdog group: Abrams plagiarized standards
* ID supporter to advise on SBOE standards

And, of course:

* What is science?  A primer for SBOE members

badger 12 years, 6 months ago


I never said most weren't. I'm just refuting the "OMGJESUS!!!!!1!" argument that seems predicated on the idea that all private schools are religious ones.

Also, I agree wholeheartedly that private schools are not necessarily better funded in a dollars and cents sense. However, they put a priority on different things. I graduated almost 15 years ago from one of the highest-funded and highest-ranked public school districts in Missouri. My high school had new uniforms for the football team every three years, and new uniforms for the 250-person marching band every four or five. They spent a good bit of money maintaining the tracks, and the football fields (plural), as well as giving the prom and homecoming committees thousands of dollars each. By contrast, in my chemistry class, we had to share equipment between two or three lab groups because there wasn't enough, and the Chem III class (there were only 5 kids in it) had to buy their own books.

We competed against private schools in KC for science bowls, scholar bowls, and science olympiads. Most often we got seriously smoked by them, and when they would condescend to talk to us it was to brag about the much nicer labs they had, and the trips the botany classes took to Powell Gardens five or six times a year, and the observatory time their mentor booked for the Astronomy Club. They may have had less money per student, but a heck of a lot more of the money actually seemed to be going to things that directly affected the students' education. I meant it exactly when I said they fund certain things more than public schools do.

My cousin is a bean-counter at a (secular) private academy in St. Louis, and she talks about replacing the textbooks for the sciences annually, and the liberal arts every two to three years, to make sure the textbooks are up to date. When I graduated in 1991, my AP history book ended with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan.

Public schools, because they run in districts, spend a heck of a lot per student on the administrative cost of running an entire, large-scale district. For example, in Johnson County, some of the school districts have their own police forces. More than security guards (because they can pursue off school property), they have cars, and full-time officers. In some districts, these are actual police officers, with the certifications and everything, paid for by the district, 3-5 officers a school, 6 am to 6 pm. That runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The elementary school on one side of town gets less funding one year because the high school on another side of town needs ceiling repair, so even though the per-capita stays the same for the district, it's not the same at all schools.

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