Monday, June 29, 2009

Charter Schools and the Bible

An AP report today about the Nampa Classical Academy has shined a blaring light on a major philosophical divide in our society. On one side, the pro-Separation of Church and State crowd is essentially saying that anything that even remotely smells of religion should stay out of public schools. They point to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the so-called Establishment Clause as their primary argument. On the other side, the pro-Bible crowd extols the Judeo Christian origins of our society and their immediate relevancy on understanding contemporary western philosophy. Whatsmore, the proliferation of charter schools flows as a secondary undercurrent to this heated debate.

Perhaps predictably, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I certainly disagree that First Amendment was intended to spawn the sort of anti-religious overtures that it has become synonymous with. I also don't believe that the State should be in the primary role of informing our spiritual needs. Instead, I believe that understanding religion in our society is critical, but I believe it should be a cognitive understanding not a spiritual or moralistic one. In my view, the latter should be kept in our houses of worship and out of the public education system.

In terms of the public charter school debate, I tend to believe that charter schools are a double edged sword. They can, and have proven to fill a very real need. The problem comes when, in the competitive process, they over-compete and subsequently hurt the traditional public school to the point where the traditional public school can no longer serve its core mission. In this particular case, a strong argument could be made that in the charter application process the school should been more forthright about its intentions to utilize the Bible. Not doing so has been a disservice to all involved.

Ultimately, I don't believe that there is a problem using the Bible in addition to other texts for the study of literature or history. I for one read the Bible (the Book of Genesis specifically) in my senior year English course at Boise High School. Surely there is a lot to be learned by understanding the belief systems that have had a significant impact on the development of western thought. In fact, I would argue not understanding these belief systems puts any scholar, student, or citizen at a strategic disadvantage. That said, I don't think that the Bible, by itself, should be the subject of an entire class in the public education system, whether it be at a traditional or charter school. The debate will continue and hopefully everyone will be quick to listen and slow to speak.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reading between the lanes

I could be wrong, but my guess is that the announcement that the Guv's new Transportation Tax Force (mispelling by design) will not report until 2011, it means John McGee won't be running for CD1. Why else would McGee be engaged so heavily in a process that wasn't going to bear fruit until after the election? Just a hunch.

More about the Tax Force later.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I wish I had thought of that...

Today the Statesman is reporting that the a group calling itself Idaho Vote by Mail is planning on pushing a citizen initiative to allow permanent absentee voting. That sounds like a great idea, I wish I had thought of it first. Wait a minute, I did. In both 2008 (HB 413) and 2009 (HB 26) I have pushed permanent absentee voting, but didn't get anywhere.

My impetus behind becoming involved in the issue predates my being elected to the legislator. In fact, it came in the HOT summer of 2006 when I was campaigning door-to-door. During that experience, while walking in Old Lakewood (as natives of SE Boise would refer to it), I came across an elderly couple with a fantastic life story. The gentleman of the house was (as I recall) a WWII vet and former mayor of a small town in Montana. He, with his wife by his side, spent his entire life serving our country and protecting our democracy. Unfortunately, due to his ailing health, he was no longer able to leave his home and neither was his wife because like many of that generation, she never learned to drive. Subsequently we had two people that served our Country that would likely never get to vote again. That, I believed, was a sham and patently unfair. I gave them absentee ballot request forms and picked them up and personally delivered them to Ada County Clerk a couple of weeks later. After some time thinking (and being elected), I concluded that something had to be done. Someone wasn't always going to be there to make sure they had the absentee ballot form to fill out. That's when I decided that permanent absentee was the perfect solution to this problem.

In 2008 when I attempted to push legislation I found an enthusiastic partner in the Idaho Association of Counties and the Clerks Association. After much work, we moved forward with having the legislation introduced. Unfortunately, that's far as it would go. It met a wall known as the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Tom Loertscher. While we had counted our votes in committee and they looked like enough to pass, we never had the support of the chair.

In 2009 the Clerks Association decided it wasn't worth the effort and so I was stuck carrying the mantel. After a very brief discussion with the chair it was clear that a hearing was out of the question and so was a print hearing. I decided to just run it as a personal bill and it went to die in House Ways and Mean-spirited.

Finally, I applaud the effort to move forward with a citizens initiative. I believe the group has accurately surmised that with an obstructionist chairman, this issue is DOA. Some of the critics will try scare folks into believing the system is inherently circumspect with voter fraud. They, frankly, don't know what they are talking about. The Secretary of State and the Clerks all feel that absentee voting is as secure (if not more so) than voting in the polling booth. These are the experts, if they are wrong about this, then we have a lot bigger problems on our hands. Some opponents will try to talk voters into thinking that permanent absentee gets rid of polling booths all together, again, they are wrong. In fact, the continued existence of polling booths is why I support permanent absentee over other forms of vote by mail, which do eliminate traditional polling locations. Ultimately, I hope the politics of fear misinformation is unsuccessful and Idahoans, just like at Burger King, can have it their way.