During Public Schools Week, we must recommit ourselves to defend the educational system that serves 90 percent of America’s children: our public schools. One way to do that is by opposing private school voucher schemes.
Reasons to oppose vouchers abound: The plans violate church-state separation and individual conscience because they force taxpayers to pay for private religious education. Voucher schools don’t improve academic performance. Many private schools engage in discriminatory hiring and admissions policies. Voucher don’t require schools to be accountable to the public.
But there’s another equally compelling reason to oppose vouchers that often gets overlooked: Voucher plans subsidize private schools that serve a private interest, not the public good.
Think about the term “public good.” You don’t hear it so much these days, which is a shame. The idea behind the public good is that there are certain public institutions and services that benefit us all and make society a better, fairer place. Because of that, they deserve our support.
Like public schools, public libraries, public parks and recreational facilities, community hospitals, programs for young people and senior citizens, and more all further the public good.
Thanks to the concept of the public good, you can enjoy a stroll through a charming park on a nice spring day. You can pop into a library to use the internet, attend an event or check out some books. You can visit a community pool for a swim. These institutions, supported by tax dollars and available to all, provide obvious benefits.
Now consider a taxpayer-funded private school taking part in a voucher program. We know from experience that most of these institutions will be religious in nature. They include religious worship in the school day and often incorporate religious dogma into the curriculum as well.
Some of these schools may teach creationism instead of actual science. They may promote hateful and intolerant views of LGBTQ people. They may deride feminism and extol “traditional” gender roles. They may compel prayer and other forms of religious worship. They may deny admission to or expel students who have same-sex parents, the kids of single moms or anyone who fails to measure up to a strict “morals” test.
Who, exactly, does this benefit? It’s obvious – the schools and their leaders. The children who are hobbled because they haven’t learned modern science don’t benefit. The LGBTQ people who are made the object of scorn and hate don’t benefit. Nor does the larger society benefit when such views are funded with our scarce tax dollars.
To be clear, private religious schools have every right to operate as they see fit – but they have no right to stake a claim on taxpayer funds. There’s simply no reason why the government should enact policies that prop up private religious schools, many of which discriminate and teach controversial views, at a time when many of our public schools are struggling.
Remember the public good. It still matters. Please let your elected officials know that you support public funds for public schools.