I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, January 27, 2012

Render Unto Caesar...

Let's go back to Amir Khan for a minute or two:

Pastor Khan - anti-marriage equity crusader and promoter of school voucher legislation to his congregation (is that allowed by the IRS?) - was granted a charter for a school this past fall by the Christie administration (notice how the press release from the state has "Christie Administration" in the headline, and not "NJ Department of Education"). His application was promoted by the influential Black Ministers Council of New Jersey; but his wasn't the only one:
If approved, the new schools would mark a significant increase in New Jersey charter schools with religious backgrounds. With Rev. [Reginald] Jackson, the movement also gains a powerful and sometimes controversial voice.
“Historically, the African American church has always been outspoken on these issues, the social issues, the education issues,” Jackson said.
He stressed that none of the applications are directly from the churches, but only being led by pastors. In each case, it would be a separate nonprofit organization running the schools, with separate boards, Jackson said.
“Most of the people on the boards are not from the churches, but are from business, the community,” he said.
The other applications from members of the council that Jackson cited:
  • Therman Evans Charter School for Excellence (Linden): Rev. Therman Evans
  • Regis Academy Charter School (Camden): Pastor Amir Khan
  • Atlantic Preparatory School (Mays Landing): Pastor Richard Smith
  • Visions of Destiny Academy for Academic Excellence (Trenton): Bishop Herbert Bright

Rules and Regulations

New Jersey is explicit in its regulations on charter schools. They cannot be operated by religious organizations, nor are they permitted to include religious instruction in the curriculum, the same as traditional public schools.
Charters have been housed in church facilities, churches have raised funds to help charters and church members have volunteered their time,” said Alan Guenther, spokesman for the state Department of Education. But they remain public schools, governed by the same laws and regulations.” [emphasis mine]
Got that? A church cannot, by law, run a charter school. But a church leader can run one, and he or she can house it in their church.

I'm going to once again drift way out of my area(s) of expertise, and ask a theological question: is it at all possible for a dedicated man of God - a man who has devoted his life to service of his Creator - to turn his faith on and off like a light switch? Is it reasonable to think someone who has taken on the special task of witnessing for his faith and serving his flock can simply leave all that at the door of his charter school?

The Catholic Church seems to think not:
A bill to allow private and parochial schools to convert to public charters looked as if it was on the fast track to passage in the legislature last week. 
Then it wasn’t, for what may be a surprising reason. 
In an unusual late summer session, the Senate budget committee convened last Thursday to hear just three bills, the charter conversion bill being the most prominent among them. But while it passed the committee 9-4, it was pulled from a full Senate vote that same day 
Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), the chief sponsor of the measure, said it was largely a technicality preventing the immediate vote. But he also acknowledged yesterday that he wasn't sure the bill would make it after all without the support of the one group it was meant to help most: Catholic schools. 
“Unless we can show a demonstrated need [from the Catholic schools], probably not," said Lesniak. 
[George] Corwell, the longtime lobbyist for the Catholic schools, said he is neither for nor against the bill, but expressed a number of strong concerns and acknowledged that few, if any, parochial schools -- even those in peril of closing -- would seek to become charter schools instead. 
"None of our schools would do that," he said. "Our goal if any our schools are to close is to get its students into another Catholic school, and a charter school is not a Catholic school under any circumstances." [emphasis mine]
So the Catholics don't want to sponsor schools that don't offer a Catholic education. That makes sense; I can't imagine why any church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious community would want to sponsor a school that requires them to exclude their faith from the curriculum. Why does the Black Minister's Council have a different take?

Pastor Khan, what do you say?
Khan already operates an approximately 85-student private school on the property.
But the opening of the larger charter school is essential to the church's plan to buy the land from the diocese, he said.
"We were anticipating the charter school to get additional income to carry us," he said. [emphasis mine]
Ah, I see. You are closing the private, religious school and opening a secular, charter school to keep your church going - all with taxpayer dollars from Cherry Hill and Voorhees, towns that never had a say in the matter.

Pastor, how in the world did you manage to convince the Christie Administration to support this?
"I could sell a bikini to an Eskimo," Khan once boasted.
Well, OK. I guess it wouldn't be that hard to sell a charter school that keeps your church afloat to a governor then, would it?

ADDING: Darcie updates us on Tikun Olam, a "Hebrew immersion" school that also treads the think line between the scared and the profane. Reforminess knows no creed, does it?


Anonymous said...

Especially when that governor has already approved five other charter schools run by members of the Black Ministers Council, an organization that meets with the Governor regularly on education policy and supports his unpopular agenda of taxpayer-funded vouchers and vast charter school expansion.

If trying to get taxpayers to bankroll your church property, it's key to have friends in high places and a state charter school law that allows for public education tax dollars to be used for political patronage.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting that while black leaders are, appropriately, calling on Governor Christie to get his facts straight on the civil rights movement, that the Black Minister's Council is silent?


I guess they don't want to jeopardize that great working relationship with the Governor. What's a little re-write of black history, when getting a charter school (or even vouchers) to keep your church afloat?!

Duke said...

Anon #2: Things that make you go "Hmm..."