Florida Islamic and Jewish leaders team up for education pluralism

Rabbi Moshe Matz, the executive director of Agudath Israel’s Florida office and rabbi of the Aventura Shul in Aventura teamed with Sr. Magda Elkadi Saleh is Head of School at Bayaan Academy in Tampa to coauthor a fantastic opinion piece on K-12 choice in Florida:

A recent opinion column that accused Florida’s education choice scholarships of promoting “Christian nationalism” caught our attention – but not because we share the author’s concerns. On the contrary, we found its cartoonish caricature of parental choice to be far from the reality that we know so well.

As leaders of Jewish and Islamic schools, we do not feel threatened by the diversity of the scholarship programs. Scholarships provide an ecumenical solution to providing families with the broadest array of choices in finding the best way to educate their children.

Last school year, more than 6,100 students attended a Jewish day school on a Florida Tax Credit or Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options; nearly 4,000 students attended an Islamic school on a state scholarship. Another 2,200 students combined enrolled in Jewish or Islamic schools on the Family Empowerment Scholarships for Students with Unique Abilities.

“Cartoonish” if anything is a gentle term to describe the boogey-man fables of choice opponents. Christianity is a religion, not a nationality. A series of United States Supreme Court school choice decisions, beginning with Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, have established that the Constitution requires neutrality towards religious groups, allowing neither favoritism nor discrimination against groups or individuals based upon their religious affiliation.

For instance, the United States Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer:

This Court has repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion.

If “Christian Nationalists” exist outside of fevered imaginations, they will in fact find themselves thwarted by the United States Constitution and a series of Supreme Court rulings that began with school choice. Florida’s scholarship programs model the principle of neutrality between religious options, and between secular and religious options, as Matz and Saleh explained:

Scholarship programs are open to all faiths and even people who do not identify with a particular faith. Every child is entitled to receiving the best education possible regardless of faith or special needs; the scholarships provide this opportunity for all children in Florida.

Choice opponents are hurling spaghetti at the wall, one moment pretending to be (highly selective) fiscal conservatives and the next to be saving the world from “Christian Nationalism” in a country with a firmly established principle of religious neutrality rooted in the First Amendment.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of NextSteps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.