The Freedom From Religion Foundation and 60 other organizations are opposing a new congressional bill that introduces a voucher-style program for military families.
The groups' joint letter focuses on the Military Education Savings Account Act of 2018. The bill promotes the setting up of Education Savings Accounts that would transfer funding ordinarily supporting students attending public schools into an account to use on other education expenses, including private school tuition. Like vouchers, these accounts would divert desperately needed resources away from the public school system to fund the education of a few, select students. And like other voucher programs, the scheme would lack accountability, strip students of protections and could lead to declines in students' educational outcomes.
This program would not benefit military-connected families who cannot already afford private school. The vast majority of military-connected families eligible for it would receive $2,500. The average price of a year of private elementary school is $7,770, and the average annual cost of private high school is $13,030.
This bill undermines public schools that provide military-connected students with important supports and services. Military-connected students face unique challenges due to frequent relocations, as well as the absence of parents who may be deployed overseas. These challenges are recognized by public school districts through coordinated academic transfer agreements in every state, as well as comprehensive systems of support for students. Redirection of resources away from public schools will only make it more difficult — if not impossible — for public schools to appropriately meet the needs of military-connected students and their families.
This bill lacks basic accountability mechanisms for federal dollars. The Education Savings Account program created by this bill operates like a blank check for parents to use on virtually any expense related to their child's education. Unlike state programs, this program operates on an honor system. Without any additional oversight, it is likely that these funds could be misused.
Yet, the program that this bill would establish could be expansive. There is no cap on how many students can participate, and the vast array of allowable educational expenses range from private school tuition to summer camp to college tuition. Taxpayers should not be expected to fund a program that provides little to no accountability for how these federal dollars will be spent.
Plus, programs like the one created under this bill are ineffective education policy. It is well-documented that private school voucher programs do not lead to improved academic achievement. Recent studies of the Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio and the District of Columbia voucher programs have demonstrated that students who used vouchers perform worse academically than their peers.
Private schools that receive students through such programs do not adhere to many federal civil rights laws and public accountability standards that all public schools must meet, including Title IX and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). For example, private schools can and do turn students away on the basis of students' or their parents' faith, sexual orientation, gender identity, disciplinary history and disability. Private voucher schools also do not adequately serve students with disabilities, often failing to provide them the same quality of services they would receive in public schools. Moreover, vouchers and Educational Savings Accounts violate religious liberty by primarily funding religious schools. Parents certainly may choose such an education for their children but no taxpayer should be required to pay for another's religious education.
The men and women who serve our country should not have to reach outside our public education system to provide their children with a quality education, the letter contends. They deserve better than this private school voucher scheme, and the letter urges members of Congress to oppose this legislation.
The 60 other organizations that have signed on to the letter include a range of groups from the AFL-CIO and the NAACP to the Interfaith Alliance and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Freedom From National Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members and 20 chapters across the country. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters related to nontheism.