The United States Department of Education Secretary is parting ways with the requirement that bars religious organizations from providing federally funded educational services to private schools. It is only a matter of time and one court case away before religious organizations can have the same privilege with public schools. This action will further decimate the present budgetary levels of public schools unless the appropriate steps are taken.
It is interesting to note that the decision comes two years after the 2017 Supreme Court decision, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer, in which the high court found that Missouri had unconstitutionally engaged in religious discrimination when it denied a church-run preschool publicly funded tire scraps for its playground.
The Education Secretary also believes that a provision in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is also unconstitutional. The law calls for students in public and private schools to receive “equitable services,” such as special education, tutoring or mentoring, and allows districts to hire contractors to deliver those services. But the law requires that those contractors be independent of any religious organization.
In contrast, the Constitution of the United States provides that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Both the free exercise clause and the establishment clause place restrictions on the government concerning laws they pass or interfering with religion. No restrictions are placed on religions except perhaps that a religious denomination cannot become the state religion. The constitution is limiting how the congress can support religions which includes funding.
We can find a similar violation of the constitution in Lakewood, NJ. The Lakewood Public School district is scheduled to receive an additional $30 million dollars according to NJ.Com. This infusion of funds will supposedly help the cash strapped school district. However, much of the money will go toward services for more than 30,000 Lakewood children attending Jewish yeshivas. Public schools can expect to become more cash strapped as a result of the decision by present education secretary.
In cash strapped school districts building conditions deteriorate. Lee County Public Schools is a primary example of what happens to cash strapped schools. In one classroom the desk is arranged specifically to avoid leaky ceiling’s that drip-drip-drip. Students crowd on one side of the room opposite a growing collection of trash cans turned into buckets. One student reported that “some days, it’s a trickle. Others, it’s like a waterfall coming down. On the worst days, water comes in through the windows, too. When that happens the fourth- and fifth-graders know what to do. They go, ‘Oh, we’ve got a mess. Let’s mop it up.” Which detracts from and interrupts the educational process for these students.
The situation in Lee County is not unique in Southwest Virginia, where money for capital projects long has been squeezed. In Pulaski County, where middle school classrooms lack air conditioning, students were dismissed early four days in a row in August because temperatures topped 90. In Bristol, one of its four elementary schools were deemed “functionally obsolete” seven years ago. Pulaski County Superintendent Kevin Siers stated, “Each year, they become more outdated and less of a positive learning environment.” Public school districts can expect the same challenges unless they are able to meet the needs of the students in services that are proposed by religious organizations.
Public school districts must begin with an evaluation of their present programs to ensure improvement will eliminate the need for services from any religious organization. I suggest using Peter Senge Systems Thinking Model. According to Senge et al. (2000):
Behind each pattern of behavior is a systemic structure-a set of unrelated factors that interact, even though they may be widely separated in time and place, and even though their relationships may be difficult to recognize. When studied, these structures reveal points of greatest leverage: the places where the lest amount of effort provides the greatest influence for change. These are not necessarily the points of highest authority; they are the places where the ingrained channels of cause and effect are most susceptible to influence (p. 82).
Senge et al. (2000) recommends analyzing a system by evaluating events, patterns and trends, developing a systemic structure, and developing mental models. This evaluation will help public schools to improve their present services therefore rendering any competition from religious organizations resulting in protecting public schools from the new religious freedom alternative.
All the best,
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 4707 Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
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