or to put it another way....
Are Your School Tax Dollars Being Used to Breed Measure 36-like Initiatives?
Recently, the Statesman-Journal reported on the extent to which students in the Dallas (Oregon) School District are allowed to leave classes for religious instruction. The article (Download PDF) explained that “over 1,300” of the District’s 3,000 students leave school to attend bible study at the “Weekday School of the Bible” facility conveniently located next door to each school in the Dallas, Oregon, school district.According to the "Weekday School of the Bible Annual Report to the Dallas School Board, dated October 25, 2005, 1,908 students are enrolled in the program out of 2,602 students in the school district as of that date.
At the Weekday School for the Bible, children are not just rewarded for good behavior and memorizing biblical passages, but they are also rewarded for “bringing new students to class.” That’s right, the more students a kid can pull out of the regular classroom, the better the kid is at being a bible student; I doubt that most supporters of smaller class sizes are praying that these children are successful.
After reading the article, I obtained figures from the school district and learned that this year 80 percent of elementary school students and 70 percent of middle and high school students are enrolled in the Weekday School of the Bible.
If the elementary school children in the Dallas School District are out of the classroom for only for one hour a week in bible study, it means that the school writes off teaching the equivalent of 21 children (total hours missed divided by total hours in a child's school year or 175 days times 6.58 hours per day). Shouldn't the school district lose funding for the equivalent of those 21 children they don't teach each year? Add to that the number of student hours missed in the middle and high schools.
According to a policy from the Superintendent included in the District's teachers' handbook, when a majority of the students are missing from a class due to religious instruction "the introduction of new material is educationally unjustified and not appropriate."
At a time when school districts throughout Oregon are rightly complaining about having inadequate tax resources, many of these same school districts, including Portland Public Schools, have policies letting children out of classes to attend religious instruction.
The Dallas School District lets over 70 percent of its kids miss school for religious instruction by the Weekday School of the Bible, yet the District pleaded (unsuccessfully) with voters this past November 2nd to approve a local option tax levy to partially offset the fact that over the past three years State of Oregon general fund revenue has declined approximately $3,000,000 or 14% for Dallas schools, 39 teaching positions have been reduced (20%), 26 classified positions have been reduced (22%), and 2.5 administrative staff have been reduced (19%).
In my book, schools shouldn't complain about losing teachers and programs when they are letting school kids leave during the day to attend religious instruction, with all its attendant disruptions to the regular teaching. And advocates for schools - parents, students, teachers, school boards, administrators, Governor Ted Kulongoski, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo - ought to be working to shut down this waste of tax dollars.
State law, ORS 339.420, gives school districts the authority to allow elementary students to leave for periods not exceeding two hours in any week for religious instruction, and secondary pupils may attend weekday schools giving instruction in religion for up to five hours a week. It does not require that schools grant that type of leave, it merely allows them to grant it and places a time limit on the leave. No where does the law provide that the the leave be used to stop teaching new material to those students who choose to stay in school. And the law does not require that schools helplessly let churches and other religious institutions determine class schedules. Schools have discretion to regulate religious release time. Sadly, too often they have been afraid to exercise it.
Here in Silverton, at one of our elementary schools, the “Bible Bus,” a converted school bus owned by the local ministerial alliance, is allowed to park on a side street that separates the school from its athletic field and is posted as closed to thru traffic each school day and is permanently marked as for "bus parking only during school hours."
During the winter months the bus is connected to the school by an electrical cable so the religion instructor and the young children have lights and heat. The local ministerial alliance that runs the Bible Bus program is supposed to pay the School District for the electricity. Of course the kindergarten through third grade students who attend the elementary school can fully comprehend that even though the Bible Bus is connected to the school via an umbilical cord of sorts, is yellow and shaped like a school bus, and is allowed to park where only school buses can park, it is not part of their public school system.
Imagine how confusing religious release time is for the students at the St. Mary's Public Elementary School in Mt. Angel.
No one in Oregon, not even Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo, can tell you today how many student hours are lost or disrupted throughout the State due to schools allowing students to leave class for religious instruction. While religious release time can help in reducing class size momentarily, how disruptive is religious release time? Can and do teachers really continue teaching new material, no matter how many students leave for the religious instruction? In Dallas they don't. The teachers' manual explicitly directs teachers to stop teaching new material during those times that a majority of the class is released for religious instruction.
That's right, those who stay are not engaged in learning new material as an accommodation to those who leave for religious instruction during school hours. You wouldn't want those students who head over to the School of the Bible to miss learning about evolution, social studies, or personal health, let alone reading, writing, and arithmatic!
How many schools across the State are helping facilitate religious instruction by stopping teaching, sending children home with permission slips, working out scheduling problems, or giving special logistical permission such as the Bible Bus parking privileges?
The Dallas policy states that the District does "not want to penalize those who leave or those who remain in a classroom." Isn't stopping the instruction of new material penalizing students who remain? Is concern about those who choose to leave public entanglement in private, religious instruction?
These and other questions ought to be answered. And even when answered, I think complaints about large class sizes and too few programs because of too few financial resources are undermined when schools have the inherent inefficiency - they are wasting tax dollars - of allowing students to skip classes for religious instruction sanctioned by the school board and administration. Religious instruction should take place before and after school hours and on weekends, not during school hours on school days when tax dollars are being spent.
Check out your school or school district to see just how religiously they are wasting your tax dollars by letting students leave for religious instruction during the school day.
Those of us on the left who care about adequately funding our schools need to work diligently to put an end to the religious release time which undermines the efficiency of the schools and our arguments that schools need more money.