May 2012 Church & State | People & Events

The Kansas legislature has rejected a plan to award taxpayer support to religious schools through backdoor channels.

The state House of Representatives on March 26 defeated a bill that would have given tax credits to residents who contribute to organizations that distribute “scholarships” (vouchers) to students attending private schools.

The scheme, which some scholars have dubbed “neo-vouchers” has become popular in some states recently. Kansas legislators, however, voted down the plan 66-55 after a long debate.

The measure was introduced by State Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville), who serves as chairman of the House Education Committee. Aurand and other bill backers argued that the measure would help poor families, but opponents said that was unlikely.

Some of the opposition came from Republicans who were concerned that the bill would harm public schools.

The Lawrence Journal-World reported that Rep. Bob Brookens (R-Marion) labeled the bill a threat to public education.

“Is it our duty to use tax dollars and tax policy to send Kansas money to private schools?” Brookens asked. “Kansas was built on, and Kansas will live or die on, its public education.”

Vickie Sandell Stangl, president of the Great Plains Chapter of Americans United, testified against the bill before the Kansas House’s Committee on Education Budget March 6.

“Once funds under this bill are given to a private religious school, they can be spent on worship, religious training and salaries paid to religious personnel – a clear violation of Article 6 [of the Kansas Constitution],” Stangl said. “In fact, most private schools, and most schools that will opt to accept students under this scheme, will likely be religious in nature; thus, this tax-credit system serves just as a way to divert public money to religious schools.”

In other news about government aid to religious schools:

• Legislators in Georgia have tabled a measure that would have used taxpayer money to expand school vouchers for religious and other private schools. SB 87 fell victim to a rule in the Georgia legislature that states that for a bill to move forward, it must pass at least one legislative house within 30 days. The bill, which would have awarded vouchers to military families and foster children, can be introduced again during the next legislative session.

• The Maine Senate has handily voted down a voucher bill proposed by Gov. Paul LePage. Maine allows some students in rural areas that lack public schools to attend non-sectarian private schools at taxpayer expense. The bill would have changed the law to allow religious schools into the program. It was rejected by a vote of 24-8.

• An effort to alter the Alaska Constitution to allow for vouchers is dead for now. HJR 16 faced a vote in the Alaska House of Representatives last month, but the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Wes Keller (R-Wasilla), pulled it after it became apparent that the votes weren’t there to pass it.

Lloyd Eggan, president of the Alaska Chapter of Americans United, wrote to state legislators, asking them to oppose the change.

• Measures that will expand Louisiana’s voucher program, which is currently limited to “special needs” students and some students in New Orleans, appear likely to become law. Gov. Bobby Jindal has promoted two voucher bills. One expands the existing voucher program to include all low-income students. Another is a tax credit scheme that allows people who donate money to organizations that offer “scholarships” (vouchers) to private school patrons. The donor then gets a 100 percent tax rebate.