The Supreme Court of Colorado recently ruled against the state’s Douglas County school voucher system, saying that to allow money collected by the government through taxes, to be used to support a religiously affiliated school constituted a violation of the separation of church and state, which is expressly prohibited by the Colorado State Constitution.
I applaud Court’s decision, and I encourage the other states to reconsider whether to continue with voucher systems except for the most difficult circumstances.
School vouchers are, in effect, a way to allow tax dollars to pay the private school tuition of a student otherwise eligible to attend a public school. There are 14 states plus the District of Columbia as well as the Douglas County School District in Colorado with school voucher programs, with varying strings attached to when and where such vouchers may be used. Eight states offer vouchers to special needs students, four states plus D.C. offer them to low income students or students from failing schools, and two offer them to certain rural students. Louisiana and Ohio have programs for both low income and special needs students. Beyond certain special needs like these, I believe there is no place for vouchers.
Who will be the arbiter of what is taught in these schools? I’ve read about an orthodox school in upstate New York where the girls and the boys must be taught separately. Should that be paid for with taxpayer dollars? The Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints teach that women should not be highly educated and should be subservient to their husbands. In their schools, the girls must wear long dresses and are discouraged from attending beyond a relatively young age. Is this acceptable? Most religious incursions are more subtle, but where do we draw the line? Should our tax dollars be used in schools that teach that evolution is wrong? Should our tax dollars be used in schools where god plays a frequent part in classroom discussions? What if a fundamentalist sect teaches that the races shouldn’t mingle?
We all use our pocketbooks to encourage activities which we believe beneficial or or to discourage activities we deem unwise. The New York Times reported recently that three United States churches with millions of members were considering resolutions to divest from companies deemed supportive of Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories, or to boycott products made in Israeli settlements. The United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church the Mennonites. Advocates of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement seek to pressure Israel economically over the Palestinian issue. They are free, of course to follow their conscience. It is their money and they may do with it what they wish.
A school voucher system is a dangerous precedent. We collect taxes to support public schools. If people choose to send their children to a private, religious school, that is their choice. I do not believe it is wise to encourage this kind of self imposed segregation from the rest of the world; it results in a lack of trust and empathy for people who are different and, most importantly, the schools likely promulgate belief systems that are counter to the cultural norm.
Let them do so at their own expense. The rest of us should not have to help pay for it.