Dangers and Opportunities for Choice in Government Preschool
School Choice Weekly #48
What is happening in New York City preschools is either a form of American-style religious syncretism or a theology-deadening death grip between church and state. Hard to tell which. And it could be both.
The New York Times discusses one effect of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s push to speedily expand government preschool: contracting with private preschools to handle the influx of tiny students.
Because most private schools are also religious schools, the program has led to city government dictating what parts of religious belief are acceptable to teach children during government-funded hours and which are not. In other words, government is telling people which religious beliefs they can and cannot express, and how. In Jewish yeshivas, for example, a Seder ceremony is not ok. But teaching the history of Seder is. Catholic schools have to take crucifixes off their walls in some classrooms, but not all. Small decorative Jewish stars are ok. Large ones are not.
Why this sort of control isn’t creepy to religious leaders says a lot about both them and NYC bureaucrats. Both seem to accept the premise that the state has a right to tell people how to conduct their religion, and when and where they are allowed to express it, as long as taxpayer money is involved somewhere. And, today, taxpayer money always seems to be involved everywhere.
This sort of entanglement between church and state is not only dangerous to both, it doesn’t make any sense. As Cathy Rolland, director of early childhood engagement for the Union for Reform Judaism told the Times, “You just can’t separate out the religious piece. We don’t teach Judaism; we weave Judaism into our work.” Religion is not bits and pieces of cultural artifacts and distended practices. The world’s major religions are holistic approaches to the world, which are meant to inform a person’s thoughts and deeds in every respect. It is impossible to chop them up into “culture and history” and “religious practice.” The two are one, just as human beings are both body and soul, unified. And government has no place telling people what to believe and how that means they should conduct themselves, especially in something so intimate and personal as passing that heritage on to one’s children.
Despite this dangerous silliness, a small opportunity for good exists within preschool programs like de Blasio’s and its counterparts, which are growing in cities and states across the nation. Because preschool historically has not been government-provided, parents are used to the freedom to choose within the existing network of private options for early childhood care. Many government preschool programs also contract with private providers, preserving some aspects of this network. There’s an opportunity to explain to the parents of the one-third of young children in preschool that K-12 also can work like that--where families can choose from a variety of providers that serve their interests and needs.
This all depends, of course, on whether government co-opts such providers or relinquishes to them the power to preserve what makes them unique. Thus it is clearly far better to use private money, perhaps facilitated through tax credits, for private institutions rather than direct government contracts that carry with them the power to pick winners and losers among the world’s myriad religious teachings.
SOURCE: The New York Times
IN THIS ISSUE:
- FLORIDA: Families with special-needs children have joined a lawsuit in defense of the state’s expansion of special-needs vouchers. Teachers unions have filed suit against the expansion because it was paired with another school choice measure and the state constitution forbids omnibus bills. Meanwhile, the choice program under fire is almost full of applicants.
- MINNESOTA: A new report notes a number of achievement gaps between races, income levels, high-achieving students, and international competitors in the state. It recommends vouchers, charter schools, and digital learning as the best remedies for these social and economic ills.
- FLORIDA: Jason Bedrick rips apart a Daytona Beach News-Journal article that unfairly insinuates private schools are more dangerous than public schools.
- LOUISIANA: A judge has upheld his own earlier decision to require the state to send the federal government intimate data about voucher students and schools. A group of parents had requested he rethink his decision.
- CHARTERS: Rather than fighting over their respective turfs, some school districts work together with charter schools so both can improve. Take a look at four such school districts across the country.
- SOUTH CAROLINA: State Superintendent Mickey Zais is fighting with the state board of education over writing new curriculum and testing mandates to replace Common Core. The board, which has final say, wants the rewrite to start with Common Core. Zais, who intends that the new set looks substantially different from Common Core, wants the rewrite to start with the state’s previous standards.
- ARIZONA: State Superintendent John Huppenthal seems to have reversed himself on Common Core this week. Although he previously led efforts to keep the mandates in Arizona, in a recent radio interview he said they push alarmist global warming and denigrate the Founding Fathers, and after the election he wants a full review.
- GEORGIA: The state has begun another set of public hearings on Common Core, this time focusing on federal control over classrooms. The outgoing state superintendent continues to insist Common Core is an entirely private initiative and looks mostly like Georgia’s previous, well-regarded standards. Meanwhile, Republican primary voters picked an anti-Common Core candidate for state superintendent to replace him.
- UTAH: A libertarian think tank has sued the state board of education, arguing it did not proactively seek public comment before adopting Common Core. Read the lawsuit filing here.
- TENNESSEE: The state board of education has voted to add cursive writing to state curriculum mandates. Tennessee is a Common Core state, and Common Core does not include cursive.
- WISCONSIN: The state supreme court has upheld a law limiting teachers union bargaining and allowing teachers to decide whether they want to join a union. Act 10 was a signature policy of Gov. Scott Walker, and passing it led to months of demonstrations, recalls, and his eventual re-election.
- CALIFORNIA: A court decision saying union-backed tenure rules hurt poor and minority students is not bad precedent, says economist Paul Peterson. He responds to suggestions that the decision could allow anyone to take any education grievance into courts and get judges intimately involved with school management.
- NEBRASKA: The state’s new online writing exams were plagued with so many technical problems that the state education officials have invalidated the results and will not publish them. The same has happened with many states this year in attempts at online testing--widespread technical problems followed by unusable test results.
- CALIFORNIA: Thirty-one school janitors earn at least $100,000 in California, and more than 100 administrators make more than $250,000 every year, an investigation has found. The average full-time California school teacher earns $85,000 in annual pay and benefits.
- WASHINGTON: A ballot initiative to raise taxes to pay for smaller class sizes will be on November’s ballot in Washington state. The National Education Association is likely to devote a good chunk of money to advertising for it, says Mike Antonucci.
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