Florida Gov’s Plan Would Aid those who Seek Biblical Law

Last Week in St. Petersburg Florida, newly elected Republican Governor Rick Scott, who was expected to make changes to the state education system, surprised even his supporters with the breadth of his new proposal.

If it passes, the proposal would transform education in the state by giving the parents of every school-age child a voucher, reportedly worth $5500 to over $6500 per student, toward tuition at any public, charter, private, or virtual school and move tax money from a public endeavor intended to educate and foster a shared sense of what it means to be American, to a sectarian effort to transform society according to Biblical Law (it will support other alternative education efforts as well—but it will clearly do this).

Though it’s being called an “education savings account,” rather than a voucher system, it is not a new idea. Florida already has a voucher system serving low-income students and students with disabilities. Florida also has a state-sponsored virtual school that is promoted as an option for home schoolers (other independent virtual schools—many used by home schoolers—are likely to be included in this new plan as well).

For decades, there has been a spectrum of support for a broad-based voucher program as a publicly-funded alternative to public education by those ranging from Libertarian Economist Milton Friedman to religious right activists, who also openly call for the elimination of “unbiblical” public education.

The media coverage of Scott’s announcement and the discussion around it has focused almost entirely on two points: concern for students in schools that are not providing good education, and the economics of Scott’s plan. Opponents are concerned about what the plan will do to the financial well-being of public education, and proponents argue that it will save taxpayer money in that students using vouchers outside the public system will not require infrastructure support from the state, enabling the property tax reductions Scott has promised.

In a survey of the media responses to the proposal, I found not one article, editorial, or blog post that discussed the likelihood that much of this money will go to support religiously-based private education.

A key component of religious right dominionists’ strategy for “returning America to its biblical roots” is to replace public education with Christian Schooling and Christian Home schooling,* so as to train a generation of Christians schooled in their specific “biblical worldview.” I’ve written about that here and here. They have been strong advocates of tuition tax credit and voucher plans as a way to move children out of public education facilitating the “replacement” of public schools with “Christian” strategies for education.

In just one example, Florida’s existing voucher plan is used by Christian Reconstructionist Rocky Bayou Christian School (RBCS) in Niceville, Florida to add significantly to their student numbers by attracting students who could not otherwise effort to attend. They also have an entire program to support home schoolers. RBCS uses Rushdoony’s work in their high school classroom and Rushdoony was their first graduation speaker; they teach only young earth creationism and a version of American history that resembles that taught by David Barton but which predates Barton’s work.

It remains unclear how Governor Scott’s proposal to transform Florida education will be received in the incoming legislature but he will have a near veto-proof majority.

*I’ve tried to make this clear in previous posts about home schooling but it seems it never comes through clearly enough: All home schoolers are not Christian Reconstructionists. I am aware that home schoolers range in perspective from the far left to the far right and include everything in between. I do argue that Reconstructionists laid some of the crucial early legal groundwork for both Christian schools and home schooling, and that they are extraordinarily well represented among the current home schooling institutional structures and networks, but that does not mean that I think they represent all homeschoolers or that all homeschoolers embrace their goals and perspective.