FFRF condemns Trump’s school voucher proposal at State of the Union

Vouchers Protest

President Trump is expected to unveil a federal voucher scheme to fund religious schools during his State of the Union this evening. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling on legislators to oppose this troubling public subsidy of religious education.

The proposal could divert up to $5 billion in tax revenue each year toward private school vouchers. Corporations and individuals would receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for transferring money to “scholarship organizations,” which would turn around and provide the funds to private schools. A bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is the model for the proposal. This is a back-door means of funding religious schools with federal subsidies.

Private school voucher schemes overwhelmingly benefit religious schools. While 90 percent of students in the United States attend public schools, most private schools are religious, and religious schools dominate voucher programs. In Wisconsin, for instance, 99 percent of the schools participating in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program are religious. Religious schools also dominate recent voucher programs in other states, such as Indiana and North Carolina.

A cornerstone of education in the United States has been our “common schools” — free, publicly supported schools open to all children regardless of their individual characteristics, such as religion. Voucher programs foster religiously segregated schools and fund schools that may discriminate against families on the basis of religion or LGBTQ status, inculcate creationism at taxpayer expense, and may not meet academic benchmarks, or even basic safety and health standards.

“This voucher proposal is an affront to our constitutionally mandated separation of state and church,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Religious education should not be subsidized with public money.”

FFRF warns that voucher programs are rife with fraud and abuse. Because there would be no governmental oversight of the schools or how the money is allocated, private schools have no accountability to taxpayers who are indirectly subsidizing them. There is no mechanism for preventing fraudulent spending by school operators, for instance. The federal program also lacks any minimum accreditation, licensing or safety requirements.

“This is a wild west approach to education that lacks accountability and will encourage fraud,” says FFRF Senior Counsel Patrick Elliott.

In states like Arizona that have implemented vouchers, there have been significant added official costs involved in running both public schools and a private voucher program. While Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have sought to cut funding for public education programs, they simultaneously want to create a new program that will cost billions of dollars.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation encourages members of Congress to keep state and church separate by rejecting Trump’s proposed voucher plan.

Photo by Chris Line.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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