When Charters Go to Church
Betsy DeVos could further embolden charter schools to violate the Constitution and endorse religion.
Our religious groups are a creative bunch. They have invaded our school boards and forced religion into our textbooks in states like Texas, and they have been finding numerous ways to fight for things like school prayer for decades. However, one way in which religious groups have been able to push their ideology on our children that often goes unnoticed is currently happening inside our charter schools.
In 2013, The New York Times ran a story about a Texas woman named Latisha Andrews. She had attempted to run a private school out of a church for some time but eventually lacked the funding necessary to continue. What did she do? She did what so many Americans have done in recent years; she asked Uncle Sam to foot the bill. As the story notes, there are many charter schools in Texas that operate inside churches. So much for the separation of church and state.
In 2008, the Minneapolis Star Tribune found that a school run by Muslim-Americans was having students participate in daily prayer, despite saying they did no such thing, and the school was eventually shut down. In 2014, it was found two charter schools in Arkansas were teaching creationism.
The nonprofit educational organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State is currently involved in a lawsuit against a charter school group called Heritage Academy, which is operating in three Arizona cities. The charter schools run by Heritage teach that people who are not religious have mental health issues, that religious ideology is necessary in government and more religious nonsense. "Without religion the government of a free people cannot be maintained," the coursework reads.
Eric Rothschild, senior litigation counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told me charter schools inserting religion into teaching is quite common. He said many private religious schools that are struggling with funding will become charter schools to receive government aid but won't adequately change the curriculum to teach more secular lessons. He said instead of schools like those in the Heritage system simply teaching about religion, they regularly appear to be promoting religion.
This kind of teaching, paid for by our taxes, would appear to be a clear violation of the First Amendment. Our government is not to get involved in the promoting of religious ideals, despite what those who claim this is a Christian nation might try to tell you. However, due to poor state oversight in places like Arizona, schools like these are allowed to operate as they please with little intervention.
"The reason you see it happening relatively often is, I think, due in large part to the fact that there is insufficient oversight over charter schools," Rothschild told me.
What makes this all more concerning is that we now have a very religious secretary of education who thinks charter schools are the greatest invention since Christian rock. Betsy DeVos and her family have spent millions trying to get politicians to push for charter schools, and they have been loud supporters of somewhat extreme religious Betsy DeVos Isn't Going to Stop Charter Schools From Promoting Religion | Knowledge Bank | US News: