Why isn’t there more full-throated outrage from nonreligious Americans against religious-school voucher schemes methodically being pushed nationwide by evangelicals, led by fellow fundamentalist Christian Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education?
It’s an insidious, disingenuous campaign to ignore the constitution and use American federal tax dollars to pay children’s tuition at private religious schools, primarily Christian, and state after state are signing up to accommodate this charade. (See video below.)
The Tennessee Legislature on May 1 approved a potentially $300 million voucher plan promoted by newly elected Republican Gov. Bill Lee, and both Florida legislative chambers on May 9 passed a similar $130 million voucher scheme pushed by another new GOP governor, Ron DeSantis, and personally supported by DeVos. The Florida plan was unveiled using a private religious school in Miami to stage it, according to Church & State, the magazine of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Especially egregious, the new Florida voucher law blatantly disregards the state’s own constitution, which specifically prohibits tax funds being spent “directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination” and compelling the state to maintain a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of public education that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”
Court now stacked with conservatives
The Florida Supreme Court cited these caveats when rejecting a similar voucher scheme in 2006, but Republican governors have loaded the court with conservative jurists since, and voucher proponents are encouraged to give it another go.
Voucher proponents try to explain that vouchers are just a method of giving parents greater “choice” in sending their kids to the best schools possible, when failing schools abound. But considering that far more than 90 percent of students using vouchers go to religious, primarily Christian, schools, that explanation rings hollow. It appears more to accommodate parents’ choice to send their kids to religious rather than public schools, where religious studies are part of the core curriculum, and accepted scientific concepts, such as evolution, are corrupted in textbooks written to follow scripture, not reality.
According to the prominent U.S. pro-voucher organization EdChoice, which supports tax-funded vouchers for public and private, religious and nonreligious schools:
“School vouchers give parents the freedom to choose a private school for their children, using all or part of the public funding set aside for their children’s education. Under such a program, funds typically spent by a school district would be allocated to a participating family in the form of a voucher to pay partial or full tuition for their child’s private school, including both religious and non-religious options.”
Currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia offer school voucher programs. The participating states are: Arkansas, Florida, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin.What evangelicals who favor vouchers know full well, and others may only be vaguely aware of if at all, indoctrinating kids in religion is the key to perpetuating the habits of faith. If children receive continuous religious training in school, as well as at home and church, the effect is more robust and often lifelong. Otherwise, parents and clergy fear secular schools void of faith threaten to teach heretical views and raise unwelcome questions in children about religion.
‘Choice’ for religious schools
So, the national voucher campaign is steeped in hypocrisy as promoters frame it as a question of “choice,” not religion, which data reveals is what the choice is, in fact, all about.
Even Secretary DeVos has gotten on the disingenuity bandwagon, suggesting that a new $5 billion federal voucher plan she supports — Education Freedom Scholarships — would be privately financed.
The proposed legislation would redirect $5 billion in public funds annually in dollar-for-dollar federal tax credits to businesses and wealthy people who “donate” money to private school voucher programs.
“With incredible hypocrisy, DeVos tried to pass off this voucher proposal as privately funded,” according to an article in the June edition of Church & State. “In April, she tweeted: ‘Despite what some may try to tell you … Education Freedom Scholarships are privately funded and do not take any money from public schools.’”
What about the $5 billion in tax money the government would sign the check for?
Fortunately, this legislation will unlikely pass the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
Voucher push continues
But the push robustly continues to place more and more children into private religious schools in America using tax money. And let’s not kid ourselves that it’s about reasonable-sounding “choice.”
Note that at a 2001 meeting of conservative Christian philanthropists, Devos and her husband, billionaire Richard DeVos Jr., described their work to direct tax money to private, religious schools was a way to “advance God’s kingdom,” which “would lead to greater kingdom gain,” Church & State reported.
Nobody on the Religious Right seems to support the option of putting more desperately needed funding into public schools to make them better.
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