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Learning Curve

  • An F for transparency
    “Look at this shiny thing over here!” – Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, Oct. 14, 2014.
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Associated Press
Gov. Mike Pence embraces a preschool student at the Shepherd Community Center Wednesday in Indianapolis.

Feeding the creationist pipeline

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is participating in show and tell today: Showing how his sputtering preschool initiative can funnel tax dollars to faith-based programs and telling lawmakers they should get on board.

Pence's visit to Indianapolis' Shepherd Community Center is an excellent illustration of the intent behind both the initiative and Indiana's school voucher program. The community center, according to its web site, in 2012 partnered with Horizon Christian School to establish a voucher school at the community center. It has collected just shy of $400,000 in tax money in its first full year this school year.

"Our new partnership allowed Shepherd to expand and become an accredited educational institution, and provide our families with access to quality, Christian education when they leave Shepherd," according to the web site.

If Shepherd Community Center's child care program is accredited, it's not apparent from state records. The Bureau of Child Care's profile shows it is classified as a "ministry," which means it is exempt from all but the most basic state regulations. It is not affiliated with the state's Paths to Quality program, a voluntary rating system that started in Fort Wayne to help parents find child care providers meeting the highest standards.

An inspection report of Shepherd Community Center from last April showed "staff medication on desk in reach of children, purse in reach of children." Inspection reports in 2011 found multiple violations, although they appeared to be addressed quickly.

The preschool voucher program Pence seeks would allow a child from any income-eligible family to enroll in Shepherd or another faith-based program and then to qualify for a voucher at the affiliated Horizon Christian School, without ever having to attend a public school -- failing or otherwise. Horizon Christian School earned a D on the state's A-F grading system last year.

That might have something to do with its curriculum. More from the Shepherd Community Center web site:

"Our school seeks to provide a loving and supportive educational environment where each child's physical, emotional, academic, and spiritual needs are nurtured. We use A Beka curriculum, which is a faith-based curriculum with a strong emphasis on phonics to help ensure that our students learn to read and build a solid foundation for a successful academic career."

The A Beka Book curriculum originated at Pensacola Christian College. Its learning materials are a favorite of Christian schools and home-school families. Aside from an interesting history perspective, it teaches a young Earth creationist view, asserting man and dinosaur lived side by side.

In multiple rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court has determined the teaching of creationism is unconstitutional. The preschool voucher program Pence and other GOP leaders support seeks to expand the number of Indiana children attending -- at taxpayer expense -- schools openly in violation of the U.S. Constitution. They invite lawsuits and threaten the Indiana's ability to attract employers offering science-related jobs.

For now, at least, a handful of Republican lawmakers are wisely holding the line on expansion.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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