100 Days, ESAs and Sectarian Education in Nevada

Sectarianism There was this announcement from the State Treasurer’s Office this past August regarding the eligibility of homeschooled students to qualify for the school voucher (ESA).

“The Treasurer’s Office has been notified by the Nevada Department of Education that pursuant to NRS 388.850, a private school or “home school” student may not participate in a program of distance education (online class) to satisfy the 100 school day requirement. Nevada Revised Statute 388.850 prevents a private school or “home school” student from enrolling in a program of distance education (online class). However, a private school or “home school” student may qualify for an ESA by taking one or more classes in a public or charter school, pursuant to NRS 386.580(5) and 392.070(3).” [NPRI]

Thus, a child can be enrolled in a public or state chartered school for 100 days, then be eligible for a voucher to pay for homeschooling curricula.  And, here we run into some problems – or, perhaps one big problem. Sectarian classroom materials.

Sectarianism is mentioned seven times in the Nevada Constitution. The first reference comes in Article II, and the fundamentals are clear as a bell.   “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, and any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction, and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.”

[Amended in 1938. Proposed and passed by the 1935 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1937 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1938 general election. See: Statutes of Nevada 1935, p. 440; Statutes of Nevada 1937, p. 550.]

In  Section 9:  “Sectarian instruction prohibited in common schools and university.  No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.”

And Section 10: “No public money to be used for sectarian purposes.  No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

Home Sweet Home

In the home-school proponent perspective, a child who enrolls in 100 days of online (homeschool/distance) education should be eligible for ESA grants.  However, what distance learning or home-school curricula matters.  Thus, we’d have to ask if an ESA grant may be used to pay for sectarian home-school curricula and support materials?   If we look to Article II, sections 9 and 10, the answer appears to be a resounding NO.

The parent of a  child who is to be home-schooled must submit an “educational plan” for the child in order to be exempt from state mandatory attendance laws.  And:

“No regulation or policy of the State Board, any school district or any other governmental entity may infringe upon the right of a parent to educate his child based on religious preference unless it is:

  1. Essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and
  2. The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” [NHSN]

Okay, a parent may choose to home-school a child, using a religious curriculum, without discrimination.  The question becomes: Can the state funds be used to pay for it?

So far the parent may choose any curriculum – the district cannot discriminate based on religious affiliation – and who pays for the Stuff?

Stuff from Abeka K-12? Their 8th grade science book explains:

“From earthquakes and volcanoes to clouds and galaxies, show your child the features of God’s Creation here on earth as well as the Great Beyond with Science: Earth and Space! This textbook guides your child through a study of geology, oceanography, meteorology, astronomy, and environmental science. A thorough study of rocks, soil, and fossils will give your child ample proofs that this earth was created by God and not evolutionary processes.”

In brief, the last time I looked such an explanation was described as “creationism,” and “creationism” isn’t science, it’s theology.  Perhaps some materials from Bob Jones University Press?  Right off the bat the website tells us, “We want students to think, so we use inductive teaching, discovery activities, and probing discussion questions to develop thinking skills.”   Let’s step back a moment, there’s inductive and deductive reasoning; and, inductive reasoning makes broad generalizations from specific observations.  By contrast deductive reasoning, the basis for most science, proposes an hypothesis and then tests observations. [LiveSci] Inductive reasoning is used in the crafting of theories and hypotheses, after which deductive reasoning is appropriate for testing those theories.  So, if we’re going to start and stop with inductive instruction we won’t get to the part where the evidence is truly tested?  However, there’s more, as the Bob Jones University curriculum describes its Biblically based instructional mission:

“The Bible teaches that in the Fall, human cognition and affection became broken. Verses like Jeremiah 17:9 and I Corinthians 2:14 teach that the fallen human mind cannot understand the world the way it was meant to be understood. Proverbs 1:7 teaches that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Here we learn that proper affection (“fear”) for God is the key to proper cognition (“knowledge”) regarding His world.”  […]

Good biblical integration has not happened until the student learns how the Bible is relevant to the subject at hand. This involves three levels of effort.

“In Level 1 biblical integration, the Bible is referenced while the subject is being taught, using biblical analogies or examples. In Level 2, the teacher shows the student how the Bible should guide him as he applies the academic discipline to real-life situations. The final level focuses on rebuilding the academics for the glory of God. Remembering the fallenness of the human mind, the teacher should call into question the secular assumptions of each subject and then encourage the student to rebuild the discipline from biblical presuppositions. The work of Christian education is the work of redeeming what has fallen.  We study all aspects of human culture because we see in that study the potential for redemption. As we view the academics through the lens of Scripture, we learn how we may be used to redeem those disciplines back to God.” [BJUpress]

If this isn’t sectarian, then I’m really not sure what would be.  To cut this bit short before it becomes a litany of examples of sectarian based instruction readily available from all manner of sources, and ranging widely in terms of quality, it’s fair to ask if a home-schooling parent should be remunerated for materials and supplies which teach creationism and centralize “redemption” as a focus of instruction?

Of course, there’s the other side of the issue – there are other religions which provide instructional materials – the Islamic Bookstore devotes a page to materials geared for young people, from pre-school to grade six.  One quick Google and you can find support groups for humanist and atheist home-schooling parents.  Seriously pagan or Wiccan? There’s a page for that too.

Meanwhile back at the Establishment Clause

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

Somewhat lost in all the recent rhetoric about “religious Freedom,” are the two pieces related to “religious liberty” incorporated in the First Amendment. Fundamental to understanding the first part, or the Establishment Clause, is the nature of the word “respecting:”

“The first of the First Amendment’s two religion clauses reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … .” Note that the clause is absolute. It allows no law. It is also noteworthy that the clause forbids more than the establishment of religion by the government. It forbids even laws respecting an establishment of religion. The establishment clause sets up a line of demarcation between the functions and operations of the institutions of religion and government in our society. It does so because the framers of the First Amendment recognized that when the roles of the government and religion are intertwined, the result too often has been bloodshed or oppression.”  [1st AmdCent]

Witness: the wars associated with the Reformation – the German Peasants’ War (1524-1525); the battle of Kappel (Switzerland 1531); the Schmalkaldic War (Holy Roman Empire 1546-1547); and then we move on to the Eighty Years War in the Low Countries (1568-1648), the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) and the Thirty Years War (Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Bohemia, France, Denmark, Sweden (1618-1648).    Not that the British Isles escaped the religiously based slaughter – there was the Scottish Reformation and attendant civil wars; and, the wars probably best recalled by the founders of this nation – the English Civil War (1642-1651).  The carnage is difficult to assess for the English Civil Wars – historical records count 84,830 dead as a result of the conflicts, other estimates range as high as 190,000 dead out of a total population of about 5 million people.

One doesn’t have to go too far back to be reminded of the effects of sectarianism in Northern Ireland, or do much more than turn on a television news broadcast of the latest atrocities perpetrated by Sunnis on Shias or Shias on Sunnis.

Little wonder the founders inserted the Establishment Clause.  And the State of Nevada acquiesced to this in Article I:

“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair[,] subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States.” (emphasis added)

Loud rhetoric, and even imprecations, from the radical religious right don’t change the overall framework – we do have an Establishment Clause, it was enacted with a mind to historical precedent and human nature, and the state of Nevada adopted it in its own Constitution.

What Does This Mean At the Bookstore?

According to the provisions of SB 302, money from the ESA may be spent to pay for:

Textbooks required for a child that who enrolls in a school that is a participating entity; … Textbooks required for the child at an eligible institution that is a participating entity or to receive instruction  from any other participating entity; … Purchasing a curriculum or any supplemental materials required to administer the curriculum.

A science text book that teaches “Creationism?” A “Biblically-Centered” curriculum?  Supplemental materials which amplify and explain doctrines such as: “When a child is born it is a cause for much happiness and celebration.  In Islam there is no preference for either a male or female child.  Quran says that both the male and the female were created from a single person (Adam) and that are equal except in terms of piety and righteousness.” [IslRel] And, that the Prophet categorically stated female children are a blessing and that raising them to be righteous believers is a source of great reward.  [IslRel]  Materials for Torah study?  Have we missed the Hindi? The Sikhs? The Jains? The Buddhists? The spirituality of Native Americans? …

If the state allows remuneration for the purchase of some sectarian materials and curricula then it must do it for all?  In light of the Establishment Clause, the question is reversed – Is there any condition in which the state is allowed to subsidize sectarian education? And, the answer is … NO.

To say that the state may not discriminate against those whose educational plans are religiously based is one thing, to say that the state must pay for the materials to implement religiously based education is quite another. It’s certainly going to take more than 100 days to get this mess sorted.

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