In late February, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced support for a bill that would create a new federal private school voucher program. The legislation, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), would create a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for individuals and corporations contributing to organizations set up to provide vouchers for students to attend private schools.
This misguided voucher proposal has also found its way into President Donald Trump’s proposed 2020 federal budget – at a hefty price tag of $50 billion. (Trump also proposes doubling spending for Washington, D.C., voucher plan – even though studies have shown that it doesn’t work.) That budget contains lots of controversial provisions and is expected to run into stiff resistance on Capitol Hill, especially among Democrats who now hold the House of Representatives.
The voucher push shows this administration’s priorities when it comes to education – and they’re not with our public schools, which serve 90 percent of America’s kids. Rather, Trump and DeVos want to divert tax funds to private (mostly religious) schools.
Americans United opposes voucher plans because they use taxpayer funds to pay for religious education. But it’s worth remembering that vouchers are problematic for a host of other reasons – they foster discriminatory policies, for one.
In Prairie Village, Kan., controversy has erupted over a decision by a Catholic school to deny admission to a kindergarten student who has same-sex parents. About 1,000 members of St. Ann Parish sent a petition asking church officials to “prayerfully reconsider” their decision to refuse to accept the child.
The issue came to light after a priest at the parish sought advice from officials at the archdiocese asking whether it would be appropriate to admit the child. Church officials said no, asserting that “same-sex unions are not in conformance with the Church’s teaching on sacramental marriage,” and “the parents cannot model behaviors and attitudes consistent with the Church’s teachings.”
As heartless as they may seem, discriminatory policies like this are common at religious schools. Students can be denied admission or be expelled for being LGBTQ (or having same-sex parents), for being the “wrong” religion or for failing to meet certain religious requirements. Youngsters can find the door to these schools slammed in their faces because of how they live and, indeed, who they are.
The situation in Kansas is a reminder why the term “school choice” – which is often used as a more innocuous term to describe private school voucher programs – is so misleading. The “choice” lies not with parents but with the administrators who own and operate private schools. They can deny admission to children for virtually any reason. Unlike public schools, private institutions have no mandate to educate all comers.
It’s also a reminder that private religious schools serve a private, not a public, interest. Because they do that and engage in blatant forms of discrimination in the process, they don’t deserve one dime of taxpayer funding.