March 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

As state governments came back into session in January, Americans United’s Public Policy Department began tracking bills that would undermine church-state separation, including those that would create or expand private school voucher programs.

AU is paying special attention to three bills:

Iowa: Members of the state Senate are pushing SF159, which would create a new private school voucher program. The bill was in­troduced in January and was quick­ly approved by the Senate Education Committee.

AU sent a letter to members of the Iowa Senate urging them to reject the bill.

“This bill would create an edu­cation savings account (ESA) progr­am – also known as a private school voucher – that would fund private school education,” observed the letter. “Our public schools, which are already facing financial difficul­ties due to the pandemic, should not be stripped of public funds. In add­ition, this bill should be rejected because vouchers don’t work, fund discrim­ination, and violate religious free­dom. Public dollars should fund public schools, which serve 90% of America’s schoolchildren.”

The voucher bill is a priority for Gov. Kim Reynolds (R).

Arizona: Some members of the state Senate want to spend more money on Arizona’s voucher pro- ­­­­g­rams, even though voters in the state rejected efforts to expand vouchers in 2018. 

The bill, SB 1041, would quad­ruple the cap on a voucher program for students with disabilities to $20 million in just three years. AU sent a letter to the Senate Finance Com­mittee explaining that voucher progr­ams often fail students with disabilities, and reminding senators that Arizona’s voucher programs have a history of fraud, including more than $700,000 in unauthorized purchases in one year.

Missouri: The state Senate Educa­tion Committee has approved a bill that Nik Nartowicz, AU’s state policy counsel, called “worthy of Dr. Frank­enstein” on AU’s “Wall of Separa­tion” blog.

The bill, SB 55, combines a num­ber of unrelated education issues, and it includes language that would create Missouri’s first voucher program. The bill could cost the state up to $100 million just in the first year.

AU is monitoring voucher legisla­tion in several other states as well.