Public dollars in Louisiana's landmark new voucher program will go toward sending children to schools that teach creationism and reject evolution, the Associated Press reports.
Under the new initiative, the most sweeping voucher program in the country, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars will be shifted from public schools to pay private schools, private businesses and private tutors to educate students across Louisiana.
The program is the cornerstone of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal's bold effort to reform public education in the state. Critics are concerned about funding and fairness -- vouchers would cover the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools, including small, Bible-based church schools. Jindal says the program will spur school competition and expand parental choice.
Several of those religious schools that will be receiving public funds to take in new students from public schools also teach curricula that question the age of the universe, defying scientific evidence and theory and promote religious doctrine that "challenges the lessons central to public school science classrooms," according to the AP.
"What they're going to be getting financed with public money is phony science. They're going to be getting religion instead of science," Barbara Forrest, a founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, told AP.
Proponents of vouchers say that the program expands horizons for students stuck in troubled schools. Opponents point out that vouchers erode public schools by pulling funding out of the system and violate the separation of church and state by sending public dollars to patriarchal private schools. Voucher programs also have yet to yield improvements in student test scores.
"Almost all the voucher schools are religious schools," Lance Hill, executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research told Reuters. "And many use an evangelical curriculum that teaches that humans walked the earth 6,000 years ago with dinosaurs. Do I, as a taxpayer, want my taxes to support that as a proper education in science?"
One school participating in Louisiana's program notes that its students "will be expected to defend creationism through evidence presented by the Bible versus traditional scientific theory." Refusing to teach evolution also isn't grounds for rejecting a school from the voucher program.
In 1987, the Supreme Court struck down a law mandating that "creationism" be taught equally with evolution in public school classrooms, noting that the legislation was an effort to promote religious doctrine.
Louisiana's voucher program passed through the state legislature amid heated debate, particularly as lawmakers objected to funding an Islamic school despite approving of support for Christian schools. Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges also retracted her support for the program this month after realizing the money could be applied to Muslim schools.
The state's teachers' unions, the Louisiana School Boards Association and many school districts have filed lawsuits to block the program.