January 24-30 is National School Choice Week, when voucher advocates are typically front and center pushing for some parents to be able to divert public money to private schools. That makes this a good week to remind folks why school vouchers are a bad idea.
There are plenty of reasons for state legislators to resist the urge to address education woes with a voucher program. Vouchers drain money from public school resources to fund schools that often lack oversight and accountability. They are generally unpopular programs, not reflecting the will of voters; and to top it all off, vouchers don’t work. On the whole, studies indicate that the academic performance of students receiving vouchers is not improved. In addition, while the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that vouchers do not violate the federal constitution, such programs are often at odds with provisions of state law, inviting costly and divisive litigation.
As someone particularly focused on church-state issues, however, there is another essential factor in rejecting the call for school vouchers: they primarily send taxpayer money to fund religious schools, including those with a religious curriculum.
Just yesterday, a voucher proposal squeaked through a Tennessee House Committee on a 11-10 vote and is now headed to the floor of the House, which is expected to approve the bill (HB 1049). One opponent, Rep. David Alexander (R-Winchester) noted the dangers of funding religious education, as reported by the Nashville Scene:
I think you’re trying to open up a Pandora’s box. You don’t have any idea where these children are going to end up going to school … what kind of strange ideology might be taught at this school besides reading writing and arithmetic. I’m here to tell you that in a religious private school, the ideas swirling about those young impressionable children will take hold. That really concerns me.
Private religious education should not rely on the taxpayer for its tuition. It may be a legal funding mechanism, but that doesn’t make it a wise system. Diverting government funds for religious indoctrination is one more reason to oppose school vouchers.