A recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune showed that lawmakers are facing a big conflict about funding in education.
The state has a new law: full-time public-school students may take up to two online classes if they are not provided by their district or charter schools. The district must fork over $700 per student per class when this happens (taking that money away from the local school, by the way), and it can only happen if a student has a full schedule.
Now up pops an ugly issue. For years, LDS-dominated Utah has allowed students to leave campus to attend a “seminary” class, which is religious instruction in Mormon theology, practice, doctrine, and so on. As other religions have entered the scene, the state has also allowed seminary instruction in those religions, usually Catholic, but these students are a small slice of the population pie.
And here’s the kicker: students taking these religion classes are considered to be carrying a full load of classes, so in essence, the state is providing financial support for religious instruction.
In other words, the school gets paid by the state for the time students spend off-campus in religious instruction.
Never mind the troublesome issue that a huge proportion of this funding goes to support one dominant religion.
The more difficult issue is that the state of Utah is financing religious education during the school day. The new law about online education is simply pointing up this very big problem. This is clearly a violation of the separation of church and state.
The Trib article quotes a state senator: “‘I think this practice should be done away with,’ said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, of funding schools when students are away for religious release time, ‘and if anything, I think the education community should just be grateful for the windfall it’s received over the years the practice was put in place.'”
Madsen is right. The new law allowing online enrollment has simply clarified a serious violation of the law that has gone on too long in Utah. Now the Utah legislature will be forced to do something about it.