Education Update – Mar. 1, 2018

Young male student

Can federal legislation help prevent censorship on college campuses?

It's hard to forget the violent protests that shut down conservative speakers at some of our most esteemed college campuses. And then, there were the Christian student clubs denied equal access to campus resources, as well as the Christian college threatened with loss of accreditation because of its biblical stance on sexuality. It's obvious religious freedom faces unprecedented threats at the higher-education level – and now some national leaders believe they may have found a timely opportunity to help alleviate the problem: The renewal of the federal Higher Education Act, which was first passed 53 years ago and regulates federal aid for public colleges and student scholarships.

A new version of the legislation includes wording proposed by conservative members of Congress that seeks to protect and raise awareness about a variety of religious-freedoms issues on campus, including:

  • Christian student clubs' rights to elect leaders who share their core biblical beliefs
  • The ability of students to practice their free-speech rights without being hampered by onerous regulations that restrict speech to extremely small or rarely used areas of campus
  • Religious colleges' rights to maintain policies that reflect their core biblical values

Free-speech advocates say the proposed wording would help students "from all parts of the political spectrum" gain equal protection for their religious-freedom rights. But national LGBT advocacy groups are raising alarms that it would give religious colleges a license to "discriminate against same-sex student relationships.” Meanwhile, some college administrators say the legislation could infringe on their ability to set their own policies. At time of publication, the proposed rewrite had passed out of the House education committee and was waiting consideration by the full U.S. House.

Tax-Reform Law Takes Significant Step Toward More School Choice

Thanks to the last-minute inclusion of language in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law at the end of 2017, families can now use college savings accounts (529 plans) to help pay for tuition at private K-12 schools. Some education policy watchers are calling it the "most significant policy victory school choice advocates have notched at the federal level since President Trump took office."

Here's how it works: 529 account owners can withdraw up to $10,000 per child once per year to help defray education expenses at public, private or religious K-12 schools. The K-12 withdrawals are free from federal taxes, but whether they are exempt from state taxes depends on individual state laws. The expansion created "a great opportunity for Christian schools and families," according to the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). ACSI also provided helpful tips for parents who want to learn more in a Christianity Today article.

States Legalize Marijuana—But at What Cost to School Kids?

At least 29 states have legalized marijuana for either recreational or medical use. Meanwhile, there's been a fallout that no one predicted—more kids ending up in emergency rooms after accidentally eating candy or cookies laced with marijuana. To give a few examples:

  • In January, a 9-year-old student in New Mexico distributed what she assumed were normal gummy candies to her friends in fifth grade. She found the box of gummies in a relative's home and "thought she was sharing candy, and if you look at the picture on the box, it did look like candy," explained the dean of elementary students. Paramedics were called to the school after students began feeling sick.
  • Last November, three Michigan middle school students were hospitalized after accidentally eating cereal containing marijuana. Police said a ninth grader gave the kids the cereal.
  • On Feb. 18, high school students in San Francisco accidentally ate marijuana rainbow-colored candies. An eighth grade student explained to a local television station how his friends "started feeling dizzy and started throwing up" after eating gummies that looked like "regular Walgreen's candy."

Sadly, these are not isolated incidents. According to an editorial by Margie Skeer, an assistant public health professor at Tufts University, a recent study in Colorado "indicated a five-fold increase in the number of children under 10 who were exposed to marijuana" between 2009 and 2015. Marijuana "edibles," which often look like normal candy, popcorn or baked goods, "were implicated in over half of the exposures."

© 2018 Focus on the Family.