Louisiana Revelation: School Voucher Funding – It’s Not Just For Christians Any More

Voucher funding for Muslim schools roils Louisiana.

A member of the Louisiana House of Representatives who eagerly supported Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to fund private schools has had an epiphany: Muslim schools might start getting taxpayer money!

Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Republican who represents East Baton Rouge and Livingston, now says she wishes she hadn’t voted for the Jindal voucher bill.

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” Hodges told the Livingston Parish News.

“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges added.

The newspaper reported that she “mistakenly assumed that ‘religious’ meant ‘Christian.’” (The article is password protected, but if you want to read the whole thing, you can sign up here for free.)

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges told the News. “We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

Where to begin? Hodges’ bigotry is perhaps only rivaled by her ignorance of constitutional and legal principles. Of course Muslim schools will qualify for funding under a voucher plan. When programs like this are set up that dole out benefits to religious schools, the government can’t play favorites. That’s basic.

In Washington, D.C., where House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican allies in Congress have established a federally funded voucher program, most of the schools taking part are Catholic, but two Muslim schools have been among the recipients.

As it turns out, the Muslim school in New Orleans has since withdrawn its request. But it’s probably only a matter of time before another one applies to enter the Louisiana program.

Some legislators aren’t comfortable funding Muslim schools. What’s to be done? How about not establishing these programs in the first place? Let Muslims fund Muslim schools. Let Catholics fund Catholics ones. Let fundamentalist Protestants pay for the conservative Christian academies and so on.

Now that the law is in effect, some lawmakers are taking a closer look at it – and they don’t like what they see. Rep. J. Rogers Pope, a former school superintendent in Livingston Parish who was critical of the bill from the start, points out that the law allows students to be educated off campus and establishes no standards for what qualifies as meaningful education.

“This is impractical on so many levels,” said Pope, a conservative Republican. “What will a high school diploma from Louisiana mean, if nobody can list our courses? How will we verify course content, attendance, teacher qualifications, and testing?”

Welcome to the brave new world of school privatization!

In other states where vouchers have been implemented, we’ve seen a plethora of fly-by-night schools, schools whose leaders are more interested in making a quick buck than educating children and schools where the primary focus is making sure kids are indoctrinated in a particular form of religion, not offering them a sound education.

It looks like Louisiana is determined to head down this well-trod path to nowhere – much to the detriment of the state’s youngsters.

Perhaps if more legislators had raised these issues before the vote, that wouldn’t be happening.