March 2021 Church & State Magazine - March 2021

Americans United Opposes Private School Voucher Bills In Three States

  Americans United Opposes Private School Voucher Bills In Three States

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.

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