Louisiana’s school-voucher program has been getting a lot of media attention for providing public funding to religious schools that teach creationism and far-right ideas about U.S. history. The fact that Indiana’s voucher program does the same thing has largely escaped scrutiny.
Associated Press and Reuters news service have reported on Louisiana’s program and the controversy over whether taxpayer dollars should pay for the teaching of religious doctrine that is contrary to state science education standards.
And Mother Jones magazine mocked the Louisiana voucher program, listing “14 wacky ‘facts’” about science and history that Louisiana students will learn in voucher schools – for example, that humans and dinosaurs “probably hung out,” that “slave masters were nice guys” and “the Great Depression wasn’t as bad as liberals made it sound.” The magazine’s source is the A Beka and Bob Jones Press textbooks that are used in evangelical Christian schools that qualify for vouchers in Louisiana.
IUPUI professor and former Indiana Civil Liberties Union chief Sheila Kennedy laments such “rejection of science and rewritten history” in a blog post. “Welcome to Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana,” she writes.
Yeah, and to Mitch Daniels’ Indiana.
A number of Indiana schools receiving vouchers use A Beka and Bob Jones textbooks, according to their websites. Here are a few: Liberty Christian School in Anderson, Kingsway Christian School in Avon, Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington, Covington Christian School, Horizon Christian School in Indianapolis, Mooresville Christian Academy, Richmond Academy and Grace Christian Academy in Scottsburg. Other Indiana voucher schools aren’t specific about their texts but refer to science lessons based on the idea of “God as sovereign Creator,” for example.
In Louisiana, Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, tells the Associated Press that students will be learning “phony science” at taxpayer expense. And C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister in Louisiana, argues that voucher programs are bad for religious freedom and bad for public education, according to the Huffington Post.
“Teaching the theology of Creationism is part of the mission of religious schools, and religious education more broadly – I defend with my life’s work their right to teach future generations about their faith,” Gaddy writes in a letter to the governor. “But they should not receive financial support from our government to do so.”
Louisiana Superintendent of Public Instruction John White counters that students in voucher schools will take exams based on state science standards that include the teaching of evolution, and “if students are failing the test, we’re going to intervene.”
Are Indiana education officials concerned that voucher-funded schools are teaching beliefs that conflict with state science standards? Katie Stephens, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, pointed out that the state voucher law specifically prohibits the DOE from dictating what religious schools can teach, even if the schools receive state money by way of vouchers.
As for holding the schools accountable, Stephens noted that private schools can be barred from accepting additional voucher students if they fare poorly on Indiana’s A-to-F school grading system. Voucher schools are required to administer state science and social studies exams, but those particular tests don’t have consequences. School grades are based on student scores and improvement on state tests in English and math, not science or social studies.