Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) last week promoted an “education reform” plan that includes taxpayer-funded school vouchers for tuition at religious and other private schools.
The proposal is supposedly targeted at low-income families with kids in “failing” public schools. The vouchers would permit these students to transfer to other private or public schools, including religious schools, provided the school chooses to accept the student.
So what’s really going on here? Every state has issues with struggling schools and students who drop out, but contrary to what Corbett said, voucher programs do allow students to simply run away from bad schools without forcing the state to fix them. On top of that, Corbett has hacked funding for public schools, which probably is not going to help fix anything, either.
The larger issue raised by vouchers, of course, is that they pump tax dollars into religious schools with the full support of the Religious Right and others who hate the secular nature of the public school system. The vouchers are an affront to constitutional principles and a blatant misuse of public money.
This Pennsylvania voucher plan is already drawing the ire of public school advocates, some Republican and Democratic lawmakers and church-state separation advocates, according to the AP, but it will also likely get support from the state legislature’s Republican majority and some Democrats in poor school districts.
It’s time for Pennsylvania residents to speak up. A recent poll conducted by the Pennsylvania State Education Association found that 59 percent of respondents were either “strongly opposed or somewhat opposed” to school vouchers while just 38 percent said they were in favor of plans like Corbett’s. Repondents were also overhelwmingly opposed to the $860 million Corbett slashed from education, with 69 percent strongly opposing or opposing the cuts, according to the poll.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is far from the only state exploring school voucher options. As my colleague Joe Conn wrote in August, the AP reported that 30 state legislatures have contemplated voucher bills in 2011, up from just nine in 2010. Additionally, 28 states have considered tax breaks for private school tuition this year.
This is a real problem, and it’s not going away. An Oct. 9 editorial in the Concord (N.H.) Monitor opposed a recent proposal to amend the New Hampshire Constitution to make it ok for taxpayers to support religious schools.
“Removing the ban on taxpayer support of religious schools, even when the money is allegedly used for only secular purposes, would be a terrible mistake that would shrink the separation of church and state,” the editorial said.
No one should be forced to fund sectarian education. As Thomas Jefferson put it in his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, “[T]o compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.”