Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support for Islamic schools, the majority of which teach hatred for non-Muslims.
Livingston Parish “I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.
HB976, now signed into law as Act 2, proposed, among other things, a voucher program allowing state educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s staff pushed hard to get the educational bills approved in the early days of the session, which ended June 4.
Hodges, who represents District 64 on the northwest side of the parish, and another freshman lawmaker in the local delegation, Clay Schexnayder from Dist. 81 in the southwest, voted with the House majority in favor of HB976.
The school funding mechanism, however, did not come up for a vote until the end of the session. By then, a Muslim-based school had applied for support through the new voucher system.
During debate over the MFP (Minimum Foundation Program) funding formula, Hodges learned more about the consequences of the educational changes. She voted against the new MFP funding formula; Schexnayder voted for it.
“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”
The Livingston Parish School Board voted unanimously June 21 to join 19 other school districts in a lawsuit against the state, challenging the constitutionality of Act 2 (formerly HB976). School Superintendent Bill Spear said that 124 of the 125 voucher-approved schools have some sort of religious affiliation.
“There may be more hidden things in the laws that we are not even aware of right now,” School Board President Malcolm Sibley said during a public discussion of the wide-ranging provisions of Act 2.
“I initially supported the bill because I understand the need to address and reform our education system in Louisiana,” Hodges said. “However, once you look at the details of the bill there were more questions than answers about the long term impact these changes could potentially have.
“Here we were as legislators making long-term decisions about the future of all our children while seeming to be missing key information,” Hodges said. “We owe it to the people of Louisiana while bringing reform to the schools who are missing the mark and failing to also ensure at the same time that we avoid damaging schools that are performing well and giving our students a top-notch education like the schools here in Livingston Parish.