With a public school enrollment of more than 5 million, Texas has an increasingly diverse public education system. Unfortunately, that public education system is also the target of politicians seeking to privatize our neighborhood public schools and push a culture-war agenda in the classroom.

To that end, the Texas Freedom Network – while continuing to fight private school voucher legislation at the Capitol – has conducted groundbreaking research into what is being taught in classrooms on subjects like sex education and religion.

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The Latest on Education

Pastors for Texas Children, a pro-public education group, is warning that the creation of a “parallel private system of education” funded with tax dollars — through vouchers or other schemes — would violate the Texas Constitution and harm the religious schools proponents of such a system want to fund.

That warning came in a brief the group filed on Tuesday with the Texas Supreme Court, which just took up a major case on whether the state’s current system for funding public education meets constitutional requirements.

The Pastors of Texas Children brief follows a brief from a religious-right group, the Houston-based U.S. Pastor Council, which argued that the state’s failure to give taxpayer dollars to sectarian schools is evidence of an anti-religion bias and threatens religious freedom. Pastors for Texas Children flatly rejects such arguments, warning that such schemes would actually harm religious schools:

“The last thing our fine public schools need is more dollars drained away from them, and the last thing our fine private schools need is the government intervention and oversight that will inevitably and necessarily follow the public money they receive.”

The Pastors for Texas Children brief also notes the lack of evidence showing that students who use private school vouchers… Read More

Religious-righters are twisting and redefining “religious liberty” so much that the term itself is in danger of becoming almost meaningless. Fortunately, a growing number of mainstream religious leaders from around the state are calling out the nonsense. The latest battleground: public subsidies (such as vouchers) for religious schools.

The rabidly anti-gay, religious-right group Houston Area Pastor Council, which also goes by the name Texas Pastor Council and U.S. Pastor Council, is leading the effort to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). The group, led by one of Houston’s most vicious anti-gay activists, Dave Welch, claims that barring discrimination against people because of who they are or whom they love violates the religious freedom of people to, well, discriminate.

Then last week Welch’s group filed a brief with the Texas Supreme Court arguing that the failure of the state to provide taxpayer funding to faith-based schools is also a violation of religious freedom. The brief is for a major court long-running case on whether the way Texas funds its public schools violates the state Constitution. The Pastor Council argues, in part:

The total and complete exclusion of religious providers from the public education system severely implicates religious liberty, whereas their inclusion clearly does not violate religious liberty or the Establishment Clause per… Read More

The folks over at Texas Eagle Forum, the state chapter of Phyllis Schlafly’s far-right organization, are worried that “leftist” ideology is infiltrating the state’s public schools through the widely respected International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Seriously.

Writing in the group’s May newsletter (which is now available online), Texas Eagle Forum Vice President MerryLynn Gerstenschlager wrings her hands over students at an IB charter school in New Mexico who voted this year for a “Prom-munism” theme  at their end-of-school dance. While students explained that the event theme was intended as something of a joke, right-wingers have latched on to it as an example communism on the rise among American youth.

And Gerstenschlager fears that the International Baccalaureate program is to blame and suggests Texas schools should dump it:

“Could the IB program in an American public school classroom be at the heart of America’s continuing move to the left?

What is wrong with an American education, where our kids learn about American exceptionalism and the things that have made America a shining city on a hill? What could have possibly happened in that IB classroom that skewed such bright minds so much that they lost their way?

Maybe Texas should… Read More

For another indication of just how much the paranoid, right-wing political fringe has become embedded in Texas government, check out what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s “Grassroots Advisory Board” is up to. Today the panel of Tea Party activists released a letter criticizing Gov. Greg Abbott’s plans to expand pre-K programs in the state. Those programs, the advisory board insists, will undermine parental rights and put children into “a Godless environment” that promotes socialism.

Yeah, that’s right. Tea Party activists who advise the Republican lieutenant governor are accusing the Republican governor of trying to lead Texas kids into Godless socialism. This is whack-a-loon territory.

The governor’s plan, outlined in House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 801, call for more funding and better quality standards for pre-K programs that school districts choose to offer. Lt. Gov. Patrick’s Tea Party advisors see the bills as a step toward universal pre-K education for all Texas kids. (TFN takes no position on these bills. Pre-K isn’t one of the issues that we focus on. But we do monitor what the right-wing fringe is up to, and they really don’t like pre-K.)

You can read the full letter from the lieutenant governor’s advisory committee here. Some choice excerpts:

“(W)e are experimenting at great… Read More

Today the Texas Senate mugged the state’s public schools and their millions of students by providing preliminary approval to a reckless private school voucher bill. But the debate revealed some dirty truths that voucher supporters would prefer folks not know about the bill.

Senators gave approval to Senate Bill 4 on second reading. SB 4 would give tax credits to wealthy interests that provide vouchers subsidizing tuition at private and religious schools. Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller released the following statement:

“Neighborhood public schools and the millions of Texas kids who attend them just got mugged on the floor of the Texas Senate. The Senate should have fully restored the billions of dollars this Legislature cut from our neighborhood schools just four years ago. But instead they gave preliminary approval to a reckless and unaccountable voucher scheme that provides tax breaks for wealthy interests that take funds from public education in order to subsidize private and religious schools. The Texas Legislature is charged with providing a quality education for every child in our state. It seems today our senators forgot their obligation.”

The Senate vote was 17-13 in favor of SB 4. Final passage requires a third reading, which will probably follow in the… Read More

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