Why is Kentucky Spending Millions of Taxpayer Dollars to Bus Children to Private Religious Schools?

Public education has taken a beating in a lot of states over the past few years, but what’s happening in Kentucky makes no sense at all:

Over the last six years, as the state of Kentucky shrank public education funding, it spent nearly $18 million to pay for student busing at private, mostly religious schools in two dozen counties, according to state financial records.

The religious schools have come to rely on government aid for their transportation — but the whole point of private schools is that they are funded by parents who want to opt out of the government system. If you don’t want to enroll your kids in public school, you have that choice, but why should tax dollars support transportation costs for schools that serve to indoctrinate?

Section 189 of the state’s Constitution specifically prohibits this:

No portion of any fund or tax now existing, or that may hereafter be raised or levied for educational purposes, shall be appropriated to, or used by, or in aid of, any church, sectarian or denominational school.

To make things worse, the General Assembly just voted to increase the money given to private schools from $2,900,000 to $3,500,000. Why? Safety, they say:

“We’re talking about student safety. I think that should be our highest priority,” said House budget chairman Rick Rand, D-Bedford, who unveiled the subsidy increase during state budget negotiations this spring. “Any time we can create safety for school transportation, whether public or private, I think it’s important.”

Parents pay private tuition and enroll their children in Catholic schools for many reasons, including a desire for better education, more discipline and religious instruction, said the Rev. Patrick Delahanty, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky. Some parents “frankly don’t trust the government, and they don’t want their kids to be in a government school, brainwashed by secularism,” Delahanty said.

“We believe parents have a right to choose a school other than public,” Delahanty said. “And if they do not have the means to pay for that cost themselves, then the state, in our opinion, has an obligation to help them with it. That’s why I don’t feel at all badly about asking for a small sum of money for transportation.

Only someone affiliated with the Catholic Church could call $3,500,000 a “small sum of money.”

But if parents can’t afford a private school, the state is under no obligation whatsoever to help them with it. That’s the point. If you can’t afford a private school, you can go to a taxpayer-funded public school. The government shouldn’t be using money to advance your religious beliefs.

Part of the reason this is allowed is because the state’s Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that the transportation money didn’t violate the constitution. It was protecting students who might otherwise have to walk to their private schools. One of the dissenting judges saw right past that:

“While with a wink and a nod, the majority has permitted the funding of private religious students’ transportation costs to assure the ‘safety’ of the students, I believe that same wink and nod shall return to the detriment of those who it would appear to be serving in this matter.”

Maybe if enough public school parents spoke out against this practice, politicians wouldn’t be able to get away with it as easily as they do right now, but the fact remains that religious leaders are taking away money that should be going to our public schools.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Ricky for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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