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Religious school curricula: a potent mix of religion and politics

The great majority of voucher and education tax credit schools around the country are religious schools.  For instance, in Florida’s six year-old education tax credit program that was, in many ways, a model for the New Hampshire program, over 73% of the schools, with 83% of the students, are  religious schools.  This ratio of religious schools is typical in voucher programs around the country.  While some are the traditional Catholic schools, the fundamentalist Christian schools are at the heart of the push  for voucher tax credits. In fact, voucher and religious school leaderships are so intertwined, you could almost say that the voucher movement is really about moving public dollars in Christian-based education.  But it’s not just Christian education, it’s the conservative Christian political views that have become familiar in the political arena. You see it in this recent speech by Tim LaHaye, high profile minister, writer and Christian school entrepreneur on the Christian Right:

…We are being destroyed in America by the public school systems of our country….and I’d like to see you join me in prayer that God would let us wrestle control of the American school system from the secularists, the anti-Christians and anti-Americans that want to bend the minds of our children. At our expense, they want to take the most priceless thing we have -the brains of our children – and let them educate them….That doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m hoping that this conservative movement will be long enough to get a majority who can vote what I consider a new bill of rights – a bill of parental rights where parents can decide where to send their children to school.

Pastor LaHaye is making the same voucher pitch Milton Friedman did, but stirring his theology into it.   The “parental rights” rap he uses is the rational for many bills, including the voucher tax credit, offered by libertarian conservatives in the New Hampshire Legislature.  Pastor LaHaye continues:

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Meet the Tri-City Christian Academy, epicenter of New Hampshire’s voucher tax credit program.

Most of New Hampshire’s Creationist Christian schools are unaccredited, but the Tri-City Christian Academy in Somersworth is the largest unaccredited private school in the State.  The Academy has  19 teachers and 344 students, mostly in the preK and elementary grades.  Accreditation is clearly a sensitive issue for the Academy.  Tri-City is currently accredited by Nicene Schools International which, they say, “was founded by our church and some friends from a church in Florida.”  Tri-City has been working on a more recognized accreditation for years and anticipated approval by the most important accreditor, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, in 2011, but that has not been granted yet. The web site now features the prospect that the school is a candidate for accreditation sometime in the future.  Tuition is about $4,000 per year.

New Hampshire’s Christian schools were the main lobbyists supporting the voucher bill – and the Tri-City Christian Academy was central to that effort.  Tri-City principal Paul Edgar and 3 others from the Academy testified to the Senate Education Committee on the bill.  Mr. Edgar testified on behalf of the Granite State Christian Schools Association, who’s address is c/o Tri-City, saying that the education tax credit would relieve overcrowding in NH schools.  Mr. Edgar later sent another letter to Senate Education Committee saying that his school was struggling and that Christian school parents had to pay twice for their educations since they paid local taxes whether or not they went to the public schools.  Here is James Pinard, on the Academy’s professional development staff, speaking here for the Granite State Christian Schools Association.  Mr. Pinard has worked with the voucher sponsors and spoken at every public hearing on the bill.  A few weeks ago Mr. Pinard presented the bill’s sponsors with Distinguished Service Awards at the Association’s annual awards banquet.

And now that this voucher bill is passed, Tri-City has been in the forefront of marketing and defending the program.  Tri-City and New Hampshire’s only scholarship organization, a California group called the Network for Educational Opportunity, scheduled a scholarship information session at Tri-City’s open house.  The school’s web site looked like the state-wide headquarters for marketing the tax credit program and lobbying against repeal, urging parents to contact the Network for Educational Opportunity, apply for vouchers and persuade their legislators to oppose repeal.  Here is one example, a letter the Academy sent to all school parents urging them to apply for scholarships.  In response to the recent attention, Tri-City and NEO have wiped their web sites clean of all references to each other,  but their shared philosophy will surely continue to bind them.

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