July/August 2012 Church & State | Editorial

School voucher plans that tax all Americans to support religious education violate the individual right of conscience. Americans should not be forced to support any religious enterprise with tax money.

As it happens, vouchers are bad public policy too.

A recent New York Times report focused on what are called “neo-vouchers,” complicated schemes to funnel tax aid to religious schools through tax credits and rebates.

Several states have adopted these programs, and the abuses are start­ling. In several states, programs that were pitched as ways to help low-income families are really benefitting students who were already enrolled in private institutions. In Georgia, Florida and other states, public aid is going to schools that teach creationism.     

Many of the private schools taking part in this largess offer education of questionable quality. Yet they are lightly regulated – if they’re regulated at all – by the government. At a time when public schools all over the nation are suffering, scarce tax support is being diverted to institutions that exist mainly to indoctrinate, not educate.

These types of abuses have been hallmarks of all voucher plans. In Louisiana, which has just implemented a voucher scheme, the New Living Word School has been approved for $2.7 million in tax aid – even though it doesn’t have the space to house more students and lacks equipment to educate them.

The school’s principal, the Rev. Jerry Baldwin, says he’s moving to expand the school “on faith.” Baldwin says the school educates kids mainly by showing them DVDs.

Welcome to the brave new world of school “choice”!

 What’s especially discouraging about voucher programs is that they are frequently pitched as a way to help low-income families. Instead of improving local schools so that they are as good as the schools middle- and upper-income families take for granted, the poor are offered the “experiment” of vouchers.

What this often translates to is schools that exist primarily to promote dogma or fly-by-night operations run by hucksters looking to make a quick buck by raiding the public purse. Any attempt to impose accountability is assailed by the voucher boosters as interference with the free market.

But Americans do not want a Wild West educational system. Poll after poll has shown what Americans really want: adequately funded local public schools that get the job done.

Vouchers are a distraction from that goal. They also undermine church-state separation. Vouchers are no solution and should be rejected out of hand.