December 2011 Church & State | Editorial

The right-wing political tide that swept over the country in 2010 has brought a number of Religious Right “culture war” issues to the forefront. Many of these battles have captured headlines across the country.

But alongside this, a quieter, equally insidious movement is under way: efforts to divert taxpayer money from public schools to religious and other private schools.

Indiana has already passed a statewide voucher plan. Several Roman Catholic schools that were on the verge of closing have used the tax bailout to win new life. Statewide voucher plans are being considered in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee and other states as well.

Most private schools are religious in nature, and the majority of them are run by the Catholic hierarchy or fundamentalist Protestants. These schools have the right to exist and to determine their own curriculum, but they should have no claim on public funds. Their goal is often religious indoctrination as much as it is education.

Voucher proponents portray their idea as something bold and ground-breaking. They say vouchers will improve student performance. In fact, their idea is nothing new. It has been around for decades – and it doesn’t work.

Students taking part in existing voucher plans in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., have been tested. Members of the targeted population – those students who were told they would benefit the most from a private school education – are performing no better than their public school counterparts. And this is occurring even though many private schools are selective about the students they admit (unlike public schools, which must by law educate all comers).

The false promise of vouchers is bad enough. What’s worse about them is that they distract from what ought to be our goal: a strong, effective and well-funded system of public education. This system, which serves all students regardless of creed, is relied on by 90 percent of American families with school-aged children. It is wrong to siphon even one dime away from this system and award it to religious schools that are unaccountable to the government and the taxpayers.

Some churches choose to run private school systems. That is their right. But if they choose to shoulder this responsibility, they also assume the obligation of paying for it.

Vouchers tax us all to pay for the religion of some. This can never be acceptable in a nation founded on religious freedom and the separation of church and state.