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Tennessee Republicans' anti-Muslim hysteria may actually do a good thing, if for the absolute wrong reason (anti-Muslim hysteria). The state legislature is considering a school voucher bill, but there's a hitch: At least one Muslim school might qualify for voucher money, and some legislators are freaking out over it.

That the same people whose first thought on seeing a mop sink was "OMG MUSLIM FOOT-WASHING" would have objections to public money going to Muslim schools is, shall we say, not a surprise. And it's gross. But in this case, it may get in the way of another top Republican priority: sending public money to Christian schools in the form of vouchers. The voucher plan currently under consideration was proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and would give vouchers to kids eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches in the bottom five percent of public schools. Some Republican legislators want to broaden the bill substantially, extending it to every school in the state and raising the income cap. But where Haslam's plan would only make one Muslim school eligible for vouchers, several others would be eligible under the expanded plan. And one is already one too many for the mop-sink brigade.

Voucher money, of course, goes to lots and lots of Christian schools—in Georgia, a voucher-like program effectively sends state money to schools that expel kids for being gay, while in Louisiana, textbooks used in Christian voucher schools offer such wisdom as that dinosaurs and humans coexisted. But in much of the south, anyway, sending public money to schools like those is one of the main goals of voucher programs. As legal scholar Jonathan Turley writes:

These legislators often deny that they have any interest in funding church institutions and simply want to improve educational opportunities for students (while refusing of course to actually fully fund public schools or commit resources to make them competitive with other states). The poor performance of public schools allows legislators to siphon off funds to religious institutions in the name of education. It is a perverse incentive. By not fixing their schools, religious legislators can get more money to Christian and Jewish schools. However, Tennessee is reminding everyone that one of the three Rs remains Religion and it has to be the right religion to receive public subsidy.
Not all voucher proponents are trying to funnel money to religious schools, of course. Some just want to privatize public education. But the two motives comfortably coexist in many voucher campaigns. And while you never like to see anti-Muslim bigotry have a role in lawmaking, if the desire to keep public money out of Muslim schools also keeps it out of the kind of Christian schools we see getting it in Georgia and Louisiana, there's a major policy upside.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Apr 03, 2013 at 07:51 AM PDT.

Also republished by American Legislative Transparency Project, Three Star Kossacks, and Daily Kos.

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