As we learn more about recipients of new grants under the state's Dropout Recovery Pilot Program, it's becoming clearer that one key political winner is James Leininger. Leininger, a San Antonio physician and businessman, is the state's biggest financial backer of private school voucher schemes and a major donor to Gov. Rick Perry's election campaigns. On Monday a state district judge in Austin rejected the Texas State Teachers Association's request for an injunction that would have blocked the distribution of public funds to private schools through the dropout program. We told you about TSTA's request last week. In addition to the injunction request, TSTA has filed a lawsuit to stop this diversion of tax dollars to private schools. That lawsuit is pending. A look at one of the grant recipients illustrates how state education officials appointed by Gov. Perry are using the dropout program as a back-door voucher scheme. That recipient, Christian Fellowship of San Antonio, Inc., is an evangelical Christian church that established Family Faith Academy in 1998. See Christian Fellowship's grant application here. The Texas Education Agency, under the direction of Education Commissioner Robert Scott (who Gov. Perry appointed in 2007), awarded a grant to Family Faith Academy over 22 public school districts whose applications were all rejected. A 1999 Texas Observer article explained how Family Faith Academy was able to open after Leininger pledged $50 million for a privately funded voucher scheme in the Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio. Leininger said he would fund those vouchers for 10 years or until the Legislature instituted a publicly funded voucher scheme. As the Observer pointed out, Leininger's voucher funds were a boon to Family Faith Academy, which opened its doors in a former roadside bar in San Antonio. But despite the millions of dollars he has funneled to legislative election campaigns, Leininger has never succeeded in getting lawmakers to pass a publicly funded voucher scheme. So last year Leininger said he would stop funding his voucher program after the 2007-08 school year. As a result, Family Faith Academy needed another source of revenue. Now the school has it in the form of a Dropout Recovery Pilot Program grant. Support for stronger efforts to keep students in school and to help dropouts get an education is almost universal. In fact, public school districts across Texas have been implementing new and innovative programs to do just that. As TFN President Kathy Miller said in a press release: "It’s hard to believe that a private school established just 10 years ago in a former roadside bar offers a more credible dropout recovery program than 22 public school districts whose applications for a grant were rejected. Just as interesting is that this private school would get public tax dollars just as James Leininger turns off his money spigot for a privately funded voucher scheme that allowed the school to open in the first place." Read More
Texas Freedom Network has been taking fire from religious extremists on the State Board of Education for our stand on public school Bible classes. We have been very critical of the state board’s failure to adopt clear, specific curriculum standards to guide public schools in creating worthwhile, legal courses that don’t end up in court.
In pieces published by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, state board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, responded to our concerns about the lack of sound Bible class standards by repeating a disingenuous argument. Mercer claimed (again) that the Texas attorney general has given a “constitutional green light” to the vague, very general standards the state board adopted. Well, how could the attorney general object to something that says essentially nothing? The standards adopted by the state board barely even mention the Bible. Now local school districts will have to expend precious and scarce resources to develop real curriculum standards that are academically and legally appropriate — something the state board decided was just too hard to do itself.
Then Mercer repeats the falsehood that no public school district has ever been successfully sued for offering an… Read More
Canadian border guards are under orders to prevent members of a fundamentalist American church from crossing into Canada to protest at the Saturday funeral for a Winnipeg man brutally killed on a Greyhound bus last week.
Westboro Baptist Church, a controversial Kansas-based sect, intends to picket the funeral of 22-year-old Tim McLean to tell Canadians his slaying on July 30 was God’s response to Canadian policies enabling abortion, homosexuality and adultery.… Read More
TIME has posted reflections on faith written by the two presumptive presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain.
My values speak to the 47 million Americans suffering without health care, the care of soldiers and civilians in Iraq and veterans back home, the expanse of God’s creation that is warming day by day, the single mothers struggling to provide for their families and the fathers who are too often absent from the scene. I don’t believe we should ignore the debate over traditional “values issues” at the expense of these other moral challenges. But we can’t just talk about “family values.” We actually have to stand up for policies that value families.… Read More
Recently, TEA adopted a dropout prevention plan that would allow the agency “to fund nonprofit groups as an alternative [to public schools] to educate dropouts.”
“They couldn’t push vouchers through the Legislature in an aboveboard way,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker. “So they went through the back door to divert public dollars to private school programs, even though lawmakers warned them not to do so.”