Vouchers Threaten Public Education (March 1995)

A nationwide push for vouchers for parents who send their children to religious schools has moved into the fast lane in early 1995 with the control of Congress and many state governments shifted to the Religious Right.

Schemes range from payment to parents of $3,300 for each student enrolled in a religious school in a pilot program for inner-city elementary school children in Milwaukee, and a similar proposal in Ohio, to an Illinois program making vouchers available to all parents whose children attend religiously-segregated schools.

Roman Catholic bishops and the Catholic Conference of Illinois called on lawmakers to inaugurate “state financed educational choice,” the church’s ironic euphemism for parochiaid. Voucher fights are also expected in New Jersey, Virginia, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, among other states.

“States traditionally designate state birds, flowers and songs. What is now being proposed in many legislatures is the designation of an official state religion–and in most instances, the solid winner would be Catholicism,” said Anne Gaylor, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Most private schools are religious, with Catholic schools dominating the parochial school scene, followed by Lutheran and fundamentalist schools.

“These voucher schemes would mean the destruction of public education, if they go unchallenged,” Gaylor warned.

“Every weird cult, as well as the somewhat less weird mainstream religions, will be starting schools. Why not, with public money like that available to be siphoned away from public education?

“Our hope is that there is enough commitment to state/church separation left in the judiciary to strike down voucher programs.”

In one such case, the Puerto Rican high court, 5-2, recently struck down a voucher program providing subsidies for sectarian schools.

Voters have rejected every major parochiaid proposal put before them in the last 20 years. Recent referenda over vouchers to private/religious schools were defeated in Michigan, Oregon and California.

The legal case against school vouchers appears on page 9. The April Freethought Today will contain a section devoted to proposed state/church voucher entanglements.

Freedom From Religion Foundation