Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp has issued several statements in recent days alleging that Catholic priests in the military are being barred from celebrating mass on military bases due to the partial shutdown of the federal government.
But Christopher Bryan, the Bishop Seabury Academy science teacher who was recently called up for deployment in Afghanistan as a chaplain in the Missouri National Guard, said this week that neither he nor any other chaplains have been affected.
“I have not been barred from any of my Chaplain duties due to the shutdown, and am not aware of any military Chaplain who has been affected,” Bryan said in an email to the Journal-World.
Huelskamp first made the allegation in a news release Oct. 8. That release, which has since been removed from the menu on his congressional website, was picked up by several Christian news websites as well as Tea Party websites and Fox News.
On Oct. 9, he used Twitter to solicit more examples of Catholic priests being denied the right to say mass: "Do you know of any Priests prohibited from celebrating mass because of #ObamaShutDown? Let us know." The tweet was followed by a link to the feedback page on his congressional website.
A spokesman in Huelskamp's office later declined to say whether he had received any responses to that tweet. But by Saturday, Huelskamp tweeted that there were hundreds of cases. #Obama admin denying chaplains on 250 military bases this weekend. #ReligiousLiberty #Anti-Catholic.
According to Bryan, the shutdown has only affected civilian ministers who work on contract with the military.
“About 20 percent of the Army is Catholic, but only 8 percent of the chaplains, reflecting the general shortage of priests in America today,” Bryan said. “Like other civilian contractors, these clergy were barred from working during the shutdown. I am certain that it was the nature of their work that made it newsworthy (the same rule applied to plumbers, doctors, and office clerks who are contractors, but that didn't prove as controversial).”
That was evidently the case at the Kings Bay Naval Base in Florida, which was the source of Huelskamp's original allegation.
Bryan is currently training in Springfield, Mo., for his upcoming mission. He is attached to the 1107th Aviation Group of the Missouri National Guard. He said the unit expects to depart to Ft. Hood, Texas, Nov. 3 and will be in Afghanistan by Thanksgiving.
Roughly six years after the law was set to expire, Congress now seems to be moving on legislation to overhaul No Child Left Behind.
NCLB was the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the basic law that provides funding for Title I, special education and a variety of other kinds of federal funding.
Passed early in the George W. Bush administration, it put in place new accountability standards that states and schools had to meet in order to qualify for federal money. The most notable, and controversial, of those was the requirement that all students be tested in reading and math.
It also required that schools make measurable progress each year in raising achievement levels and closing achievement gaps between subgroups of students, or else they would face sanctions. And it mandated that by 2014, all students had to be scoring proficient or better on those tests.
Historians will probably be arguing for decades about whether the law did more harm than good. But suffice it to say that nearly everyone — teachers, parents and students alike —has been clamoring for change since NCLB's originally expiration date in 2007.
Partisan gridlock in Washington prevented that. Finally, in 2011, President Barack Obama's administration began offering states waivers from NCLB on the condition they agree to adopt "college and career-ready" standards in reading and math, along with other kinds of reform measures that would still hold states and schools accountable for showing continued improvement.
In the past week, however, the relevant committees in the House and Senate both advanced bills to reauthorize ESEA while doing away with most of the onerous requirements of NCLB.
The Washington Post reports that the House Republican plan would shrink the federal government's role in setting K-12 education policy.
The website MinnPost says the bill from the Democratic-controlled Senate looks a lot more like Obama's waiver program.
Education Week produced a side-by-side comparison on its Politics K-12 blog that summarizes the Senate Democrats' bill, the Senate Republicans' alternative, and the House Republican plan.
The Kansas Association of School Board's Mark Tallman posted this week that the national school boards group is leaning more favorably toward the Republican plans because they would impose fewer federal requirements and give more flexibility to states.
But he says the national group still has problems with some GOP provisions, and would likely withdraw its support if Republicans add amendments offering federal funding of voucher and charter school programs.