Sunday, June 28, 2015

Nevada Lawmakers Betray Trusts

  Edd Doerr fins a column titled “What part of ‘no’ don’t Nevada Republicans understand?”, by Allan Powell, interesting.  It was published in the Hagerstown (MD) Herald-Mail on June 12. Powell is professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College and writes a regular weekly column for the paper. He is the author is a number of books on Maryland history and is a member of the ARL advisory board. Powell, a crewman on a Catalina in the Pacific during WW II ( by the way), is a Humanist.

  Nevada Lawmakers Betray Trusts

          Lawmakers in Nevada join a growing number of state legislatures that take pride in breaking two trusts; the pledge to support public schools and pledge to abide by their constitution. According to the Washington Post (6/14/15), a law that "any parent in Nevada can pull a child from the state's public schools and take tax dollars with them, giving families the option to use this money to pay for private or parochial school, or even for home schooling". This is choice, out of control.
          Edd Doerr, President of Americans for Religious Liberty, a lifetime defender of the principle of separation of church and state, was prompt and clear in charging the writers of "utter contempt for the religious freedom of all tax payers who will be forced to support religious institutions they would not support voluntarily". He is also correct in pointing out that they violated the demands of the constitution of their own state. Article XI, sections 9 and 10 read as follows: "No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or university that may be established under this constitution" and "No public funds of any kind or character whatever, state, county or municipal, shall be used for sectarian purposes". What part of no, don't they understand?
          For those that might be curious about what the Maryland constitution has in print, I have a book that includes every state's requirement. In a portion of Article 36, we find "Nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent or maintain, or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain any place of worship, or any ministry, nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror on account of his religious belief ...."
          Author Doerr points out that in 28 statewide referenda held between 1966 and 2014, support for vouchers is down by "landslide margins". Voucher plans have been rejected as recently as 2012 in Florida and 2014 in Hawaii. Doerr also notes that voucher attempts are by Republican political leaders. This was the case in Nevada where Republicans of both houses supported the vote.
          According to the account of the Nevada law, its supporters got help from the same education foundation started by Florida Governor, Jeb Bush. This must be seen as a national effort with the goal of privatizing public school systems. In addition, this law was praised as a "... huge victory for the children of Nevada" by Robert Enlow, the leading executive of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice which promotes the philosophy of Milton Friedman. He, it will be recalled, is known for teaching the economics of a free market.
          What could the chief executive of a for-profit organization mean about "A huge victory" for a school system that changes from a clearly public school outlook to a business model? Education grounded on a business outlook will be cost centered rather than a service centered institution. Success will be judged by higher test scores in competition with other countries. Love of knowledge for the sake of knowing would seem odd. Development of character and quest for noble values would be secondary to market interests. Community service would give way to personal enrichment.
          Citizens must realize that every dollar transferred to vouchers is a drain from what could be used to improve the public schools. Further, public schools expect to serve all classes and races of students.
          Those who study the movement to offer vouchers, do not fail to point out that it is primarily a Republican enterprise. The vote in Nevada followed party lines. One Republican leader who worked for passage averred that "This is the wave of the future". This lack of support of our public schools seems so unreal to those of us who grew up long ago and remember how close we were to the schools in our neighborhood.
          We well remember how patient our teachers were. During the Depression era, most of us tried to find ways to earn small change. We were not model students and teachers were well aware of our struggle to get food and clothing. We did not blame teacher for shortcomings in time and preparation for class. We looked up to those who were in public education and there was little tension in the community about the need to get into constitutional debates about the job of educators. One of our great gifts in life is our public schools - they deserve our thanks and support.

Allan Powell, Professor Emeritus, Philosophy, HCC

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