Recently appointed Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has wasted no time shoring up support among conservative Christians.
On her second day on the job, Spellings sent a stern letter to the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) warning stations not to air an episode of a popular children’s program called “Postcards from Buster,” which she asserted promotes the gay lifestyle.
The program, a spin-off of the PBS children’s program “Arthur,” deals with an animated rabbit named Buster who travels around the country with his dad meeting other children and learning about local customs, cultures and food.
The episode that got Spellings so upset is set in Vermont, where Buster and his dad visit a farm and learn how maple syrup and cheese are made. One girl on the program mentioned in passing that she has a mother and a stepmother and loves them both.
The Education Department provides some funding for “Postcards from Buster” as well as other PBS shows for children under a program called Ready To Learn. In her letter, Spellings pointed out that the funding can be taken away if Congress is displeased.
“You should also know that two years ago the Senate Appropriations Committee raised questions about the accountability of funds appropriated for Ready-To-Learn programs,” read Spellings’ letter.
Several Religious Right groups applauded her action. PBS officials immediately announced they were pulling the episode, although some local affiliates aired it anyway. In Washington, D.C., where the PBS station refused to air the episode, the Church of the Pilgrims obtained a copy on a DVD and showed it to local families in the church basement.
A few weeks later, Spellings struck again, this time appealing to the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops to open the doors of their schools to provide “supplemental educational services” for America’s schoolchildren and promising them the taxpayers will pick up the tab.
“Thousands of students in your communities could benefit from the knowledge and skill of your teachers,” Spellings told the Conference of Catholic Bishops Feb. 28. “We will provide federal funds. We just need you to open your doors…just as you have always done for children in need.”
Spellings insisted that Catholic schools can take public funds without watering down their sectarian approach.
“And you can do it in a program that protects your religious freedom because the Department has issued a faith-based regulation with strong language to protect religious organizations providing supplemental services,” she said.
Spellings also praised Catholic education, noting that one of her own children attends a Catholic school. She vowed to work with President George W. Bush to bring private school “choice” to more parents, touting a $50-million line-item for vouchers in the Bush budget.
In other news about parochial school aid:
• Private school “choice” plans have surfaced in several states this year, reports Education Week.
The education newspaper reported Feb. 23 that battles over vouchers or tuition tax credits are expected in South Carolina, Ohio, Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri.