One Louisiana state representative in particular thought it was “preposterous” when Rep. Valarie Hodges was reported to have said that she thought the recently-passed vouchers in Louisiana would be only for Christian schools; certainly not for Muslim schools.
That reaction came from Hodges herself.
In a story that went viral in early July, the Livingston Parish News makes that connection after Hodges said she “liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” and supports funding “for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools.”
The East Baton Rouge-area legislator told Southern Jewish Life that the article was “misleading” and her attempt to clarify “was not welcome” by the writer. Hodges stated she never claimed to support only Christian schools or assumed the vouchers would be solely for Christian schools.
The Constitution “allows for freedom for all religions and is very explicit so as not to allow discrimination against any religion,” she said. She noted the “great job most Catholic schools do” and added, “I am sure there are Muslim schools that do great things in communities as well.”
Her point, she said, was there is a danger of vouchers going to schools that have “radical religious, anti-American teaching,” and “we need some safeguards in place to make sure that doesn’t happen in Louisiana.”
She said the state needs to ensure that vouchers do not “open the door to fund radical Islamic schools” that disparage America and Israel. “The extremist form of Islamic fundamentalism promotes beheadings, mutilation, and abuse of women and is not a ‘religious school’ but more of a political movement,” she noted.
Her SJL interview came right after she returned to Louisiana from a three-day Christians United for Israel conference in Washington. Hodges was the leader of a resolution that passed the Louisiana legislature in June, supporting Israel. She presented it to CUFI leaders and the Louisiana Congressional delegation while in Washington.
“Israel’s enemies are our enemies, hence the statement about radical, militant Islam,” she said. “The reporter took my comments out of context.”
The Louisiana voucher system was approved by the Legislature in April. At the time, members of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs met with elected officials in Baton Rouge and members of the New Orleans Jewish community, to rally support for the initiative.
Bob Berk, the Head of School for the New Orleans Jewish Day School, and Jonathan Lake, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, joined OU in Baton Rouge to support the voucher and educational tax credit proposals.
Last month, the Louisiana Department of Education showed that 119 schools are in line to receive vouchers for 6,600 students, only one of those schools is not affiliated with a church, and most of those are Catholic schools. About 9,000 students applied for the slots.
Officials expect those numbers to increase in future years.
Vouchers cover tuition at private schools up to the $8,800 per year that public schools spend per child. When a voucher is used, the local public school loses a similar amount in funding for that student. Vouchers are available to families with annual income up to 250 percent of the poverty line, which translates to about $58,000 for a family of four. The student must also be currently enrolled at a public school where at least 25 percent of students test below grade level. Half of the state’s students qualify under those rules.
A pilot program in New Orleans has been in place for several years, participants scoring at or above grade level rose 7 percent, while the citywide the figure was 3 percent.
Some schools that offered large numbers of voucher slots are being scrutinized as sub-par, or teach creationism instead of evolution.
In October, there will be a hearing on whether the new program is constitutional.