Arizona Education Association

Winter 2016

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WINTER 2016 | ADVOCATE 29 rizona educator Josh Buckley teaches government to seniors at Red Mountain High School in the Mesa Unifi ed School District. This year, his students are getting a lesson ripped from the headlines of their local newspaper. It will focus on a current U.S. District Court case accusing a local charter school of ignoring religious liberty and the separation of church and state guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. "The separation of church and state is an idea that hits students again and again as we talk about freedom of religion," said the vice president of the Mesa Education Association. "They'll be able to see that kind of distinction and say, 'Hey, that doesn't seem right.'" Heritage Academy, a Mesa-based charter school, considered a public school because it gets taxpayer dollars, stands accused of using controversial textbooks that mix religion with history lessons. We have a strong record of charter schools doing what they want to do in Arizona," said Buckley, who points out that charter schools are managed by for-profi t companies and are not held to the same standards as tradition public schools. "So to fi nd out that a charter school is skirting or outright breaking the rules isn't totally surprising. Americans United for Separation of Church and State launched a suit against Heritage in September after it says it fi led several complaints with the state agency overseeing charters—complaints it says went nowhere. "As a matter of law, and as a matter of the constitutionally-required respect for the religious liberty of all Americans, no public school student should be so compelled to learn and practice the preferred faith of a school offi cial," states the lawsuit. "No parent should have their rights to determine the religious upbringing of their children so usurped." "If this happened in a neighborhood public school, a teacher could face disciplinary action up to and including losing their teaching certifi cate," said Joe Thomas, a government teacher from Mesa and president of the Arizona Education Association, which represents thousands of educators throughout the state. "In Arizona, however, charter schools are not required to hire certifi ed teachers, and charter schools face little to no accountability or oversight even though they are funded by taxpayer dollars." The charges against Heritage seem to fi t with the overall plan of conservative, right-wing state lawmakers who want to drain public schools of vital funding to subsidize the cost of tuition at private and religious schools. The state currently spends $6,314 per student for those attending charter schools compared to $5,198 for each public school student. "For those parents who want their children to have a religious education, they are entitled to it," said Jonathan Parker, who teaches AP high school history in Glendale and is president of the Glendale Union Education Association. "But if it comes at a cost of syphoning public funds away from students who are entitled to a quality public education, that's not right." "With this case, I think we're seeing some 'cafeteria constitutionalism' where we pick and choose the parts of the constitution we intend to abide by as long as they are not inconvenient." However, educators are hopeful the courts will set things straight and rule in favor of the Constitution and parents' rights to determine a child's religious upbringing. "My hope is this will be seen as a violation of the fi rst amendment," said Buckley. "Religion is a personal matter that should be decided within a family and not left up to a publicly-funded school." In Depth Look Lawsuit Accuses AZ Charter School of Mixing Religion with History by Brian Washington, via n TAKE ACTION Tell lawmakers it's time for tougher standards and more oversight and accountability for charter schools at forms/tell-your- legislator-adopt-the- annenberg-charter- standards. Josh Buckley Jonathan Parker

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