February 10, 2017
During his presidential campaign, President Trump proposed to “immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion toward school choice” and to “establish the national goal of providing school choice to every American child living in poverty.”
He reiterated that goal in his speech to Congress on Feb. 28, saying: “Education is the civil rights issue of our time. I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.”
How might Secretary DeVos and reform‐minded legislators implement that vision? In light of widespread, deep‐seated concerns over the need to respect state and local control, pundits are
predicting they could choose to pursue one of the following strategies: 1) Existing education-savings accounts programs could be expanded to allow families to cover more K‐12 education expenses, including private school tuition, tutoring or homeschool curricula. 2) Secretary DeVos could borrow from former Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s playbook and propose a competitive grant program, empowering states who want to do so to launch or expand school choice programs. However, a grant program could be more limited in its reach. 3) So perhaps “the quickest and most effective route to a school‐choice victory for all fifty states” might be a scholarship tax credit, a proposal which could be included in federal tax‐reforms expected this spring, wrote Thomas Carroll, who has led several education‐reform organizations.
How does a scholarship tax credit program work? In general, it allows corporations or individuals to donate to a scholarship‐fund organization and receive a tax credit for that amount. The scholarship organization then awards the donated funds to families and children, empowering them to attend a school of their choice. The initiative could be structured in a way that benefits children facing the most difficult challenges—whether from socio‐economic hurdles or physical disabilities. Ideally, “it would allow a K‐12 scholarship fund to provide full scholarships to students in states without their own programs, and to ‘top‐up’ scholarships in states that have them already,” explains Carroll.
Berkeley Protests, Free‐Speech Debates & a Christian Response
Protestors at the University of California, Berkeley, caused an estimated $100,000 worth of damage to the campus and shut down a controversial speaker invited by a Republican student group. Disturbing images of the protestors starting fires cast a spotlight on tensions simmering on campuses nationwide. Too often, these clashes leave students feeling forced to walk a tightrope between two extremes: On one side, there are demands for a no‐holds‐barred, sometimes even hateful, form of free speech and on the other, a stifling climate of censorship and political correctness. In this case, the speaker at issue was a provocateur known for using inflammatory language and derogatory statements. His invitations to several campuses appear to be part of a backlash among students growing weary of censorship. “I’m tired of getting silenced, as many conservative students are,” a Berkeley student told the New York Times. “If we support freedom of speech, we should support all speech including what they consider hate speech.” But how should Christians—who take seriously Christ’s command to “love your neighbor”— respond to the controversy?
Given that studies reveal the preponderance of left‐leaning faculty members and professors on college campuses, it makes sense that students with socially‐conservative or religious viewpoints feel they are being silenced at a disproportionate rate. Even so, for Christians called to reflect Christ’s love, reacting with inflammatory, insulting language for the sake of making a point is not a viable option.
Instead, the Christian response should be to always exalt the truth—balanced with Jesus’ model of sacrificial love—over any desire to win a battle. And in the quest for truth, we should advocate for more redemptive dialogue—not less. That’s why Focus on the Family’s free‐speech initiatives for students, like the upcoming Day of Dialogue (see details below), continues to play a key role in our culture.
“The heart of this initiative is to equip students to express the model presented by Jesus Christ in the Bible—who didn’t back away from speaking truth, but neither held back in pouring out His compassionate love for hurting and vulnerable people,” explains the Day of Dialogue website.
Focus on the Family’s Day of Dialogue is April 28, 2017: Gender Identity Court Case Provides Interesting Backdrop
On Friday, April 28, thousands of students will put their First Amendment rights into practice by communicating a grace‐filled, biblical perspective on some of the most sensitive issues of our day — including marriage, sexuality and gender‐identity. Marking its sixth year, the free‐speech, student‐led event occurs amidst a backdrop of escalating debates over the promotion of transgender issues in schools. In fact, exactly one month before Day of Dialogue—on March 28— the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments in a key case addressing transgenderism, federal Title IX policies, and the use of school bathrooms. The case involves a 17‐year‐old student who was born female, but is identifying as male. With the help of the ACLU, the student has sued a Virginia school for the right to use the boys’ bathroom. The Court’s decision will likely impact schools nationwide.
Meanwhile, Day of Dialogue is empowering students to bring a rare, redemptive perspective to the table — one that expresses their belief that “a biblical perspective teachers us that every person was created in the image of God and has innate dignity and worth, no matter how they identify” — in addition to their confidence that “the Bible presents a road map for our relationships” that provides hope and “the joy of genuine and fulfilling intimacy.”
Update: On Feb. 22, the new leaders of the nation’s Departments of Education and Justice took a big step toward restoring parental rights, student privacy, and local control: They rescinded federal directives (issued in the form of “Dear Colleague” letters from the previous administration) that essentially forced schools to allow boys identifying as girls, and vice versa, access to public school locker rooms and bathrooms. “This is an issue best solved at the state and local level. Schools, communities, and families can find – in many cases have found – solutions that protect all students,” stated the new guidance. Not long afterward, on March 6, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not decide the Virginia school-bathroom case—and vacated a lower court ruling that had cleared the way for a lawsuit against the school (because it was not allowing the student to use the boys’ bathroom). While these developments mark a key step back from having D.C. agency mandates (without any congressional vote) dictate local school policies, new court cases could likely resurface using different legal arguments.