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GOP governor forces school districts to partner with ‘faith-based’ groups for taxpayer-funded program

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A newly launched mentoring program funded with taxpayer dollars requires Ohio school districts to partner with a faith-based organization and a business in order to have access to the money, reports Cleveland.com.

The mentoring program, championed by Republican Governor John Kasich, provides $10 million to Ohio schools to work with at-risk students, however school districts are discovering a religious requirement inserted into the program.

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Any school district that wants state money from the program must partner with both a church and a business,  or with a faith-based organization and a non-profit set up by a business to do community service. Failure to incorporate a faith-based group will leave a school district out in the cold.

United Way of Greater Cleveland President Bill Kitson, who sat on Kasich’s advisory panel for the program, explained there are no exceptions, “You must include a faith-based partner.”

Buddy Harris, a senior policy analyst for the Ohio Department of Education, told a gathering of church and non-profit representatives that each application must include a school district — or charter school — plus a business and a place of worship or a faith-based organization in its partnership. Other non-profits can be involved, he said, but only if they include all three of the other groups.

According to Harris, partnerships excluding a faith-based group will not qualify for tax dollars, saying “The faith-based organization is clearly at the heart of the vision of the governor,” before adding, “We do not foresee any proselytizing happening between mentors and students. That’s not really what we’re seeking.”

Asked why the governor is mixing religion with a state program, Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols said, “The governor believes faith-based organizations play an important role in the lives of young people.”

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In a video shown to the group, Kaisch told the gathering, “The Good Lord has a purpose for each and every one of them (students) and you’re helping them to find it.”

Kasich’s earlier proposal for the mentoring program, called “Community Connectors,” mentioned faith-based groups, but never stated that their inclusion would be a requirement for receiving funds.

Despite noting that many of Cleveland’s existing school programs would not qualify for the new program without adding the religious element, Kitson dismissed concerns about mixing religion with a state program saying, “The issue here is helping our kids. As an advisory board mentor, that (faith-based requirement) is not what I’m worried about.”

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