Religious Schools? Essay, Research Paper
Vouchers are tuition subsidies for students in public schools to attend private schools and/or for students already in private schools. Proponents for publicly funded school vouchers see them as a way for poor parents to leave a failing public school system and allow their children to go to the school of their choice. Opponents fear that school vouchers would take money away from public schools, causing grater segregation while not helping the majority of students remaining in the public school system. The Catholic Church supports school vouchers and believes that every person should have equal opportunity to send there children to the best schools regardless of there financial situation. This paper will attempt to explain the complex arguments around the issue of publicly funded school vouchers, so that one could understand both sides of this issue.
Voucher programs allow students to take a portion of funds reserved for public education to put toward private education. The major supporters of school vouchers are poor parents, and the Catholic Church. Before 1999, the Catholic Church had been one of the chief enemies of all federal grants for education. Then the Hierarchy gradually changed direction, and it decided to support federal aid in principle on condition that any specific measure should include auxiliary services for Catholic schools. The condition has never been met, and the failure of agreement has created the longest and most caustic church-state controversy in the history of Congress. According to the Church and Catechism it is the obligation of the state that “public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.” Supporters of such a program believe that allowing students to choose the school they will attend will result in a better education and a more level playing field, where not only middle- and upper-class students dominate the private school system.
Some proponents of vouchers see the public school system as promoting atheist views and denying the freedom to practice a religion other that atheism. School vouchers would allow parents to send their children to religious schools and allow them to assert the right to practice the religion of their choice. Cavailer Daily, a scholar and leader in the voucher movement states, “Freedom of Religion should allow students to attend a parochial school, rather than prevent them.” Vouchers allow choice for all people not only the ones wealthy enough to afford a religions education. The current system has allowed students “to be rigorously secularized” striking down “most forms of public assistance to parents who desire to protect their children from an educational system that is often actively promoting values that are profoundly at odds with religious convictions. The net result has been that a crucial aspect of religious freedom is exercised only by families wealthy enough to afford private education after paying taxes for public schools.” Mary Ann Glendon, a constitutional scholar and professor at Harvard University.
Many proponents of vouchers do not want to eliminate the public school system; they want to use
. School choice means better educational opportunity, because it uses the dynamics of consumer competition to drive service quality. As students leave the public school system and choose private school they will take there voucher money with them causing profit loses for that district. Many proponents of vouchers feel that this will cause the public schools to reform and offer a better educational program, so they can also become competitive in the schools market. Public schools currently account for 90% of the educational institutions, thus cornering the market. Proponents of vouchers believe that the short term benefits will allow students to get a better education, and in the long term public schools will be forced to radically change there programs in order to compete with a growing school market.
The advantage of voucher programs is that parents can spend their money how they see fit. Public schools are funded with taxes-often property taxes, which partially accounts for better schools in richer districts. Each district gets a different amount of money per student so in the poor areas of the country the schools get less money per student resulting in lower quality teachers, and inability to buy adequate materials. People must pay these taxes regardless of the quality of local schools, or where they want to send their child. Even if you send your child to private school, you are still required to pay taxes to fund a public school system that you do not use. The voucher system, then, acts as a refund system for parents who wish to educate their children elsewhere.
Leading the charge against publicly funded school vouchers is the American Teachers Union, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, as well as The National Council of Churches and many constitutionalists. Opponents of school vouchers believe that while vouchers might seem like a good idea on the surface, a deeper investigation reveals its fatal flaws and irreversible social implications. The biggest argument against vouchers is that they are unconstitutional. It has been decide that according to the establishment clause of the 1st amendment giving any funds to private school that promote religion is against the law. Vouchers also have the ability to hurt the majority of students in public schools by taking away their funding. According to expert on the subject of school vouchers, Henry Levin, “not only are vouchers unconstitutional but they completely undermine the public education system, thus threatening our system of democracy.”
The issue is one of separation between church and state. Under the establishment clause of the 14th amendment, may public money be used for sectarian schools? During the 1940 s, the high court decided that all direct appropriations for the central expenditures of such schools would be unconstitutional. No federal or local tax funds may be used for building costs, teachers salaries, or other regular operational expenses. These perimeters were established in the Everson v. Board of Education ruling in 1947. In this case, a New Jersey town had allowed local tax funds to reimburse Catholic parents for busing their children to school. The Court, speaking through Justice Black, said:
The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws, which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief of disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or dis-beliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, what ever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice or teach religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against the establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and state.”
For the past 50 years the Supreme Court has held up the “wall of separation” in such high profile cases as the Nyquist decision in 1973, which invalidated a New York State program that provided tuition reimbursements to poor parents whose children attended private schools. Although the court found that New York had attempted to ensure the secular effect by making the payments directly to the parents, it ruled that the program had a primary function of advancing religion, and there for was unconstitutional. This ruling affirmed Justice Black s decision in making publicly funded school vouchers unconstitutional.
Opponents of school vouchers believe that not only are they unconstitutional; they also hurt students and the Public School System. The United States Public School system was founded during the mid 1800 s to promote economic and social well being. The United States prides it self on being one of the only countries to provide a free and equal education to all children from kintergarden too high school. There is an apparent connection between public schools and the common good in democracy because as our country becomes increasingly diverse, the public school system stands out as an institution that unifies Americans. Research from the United States and abroad show that vouchers lead to greater segregation of students by socioeconomic status and race. Countries such as Ireland and Canada are divided because their governments provide education for each different religion, and consequently a deep cultural division in the population has been accentuated. The public school systems serves the majority of people and most are satisfied and don t want to change where they go to school.
Opponents of school vouchers believe they do not help the majority of poor and underprivileged and benefit more advantaged families. In Milwaukee, for example, parents who accepted vouchers, on average, were better educated, more involved in their children s education, and had higher expectations for their children than parents of public school children. Only 1% of public school students are currently participating in a school voucher plan, so the majority of children are left in the public school system to fend for themselves.
Voucher advocates often claim that private school education is cost effective because these schools can operate for less money. However, looking at the record of accomplishment of the only two experimental voucher schools, Milwaukee voucher program started in 1990, and Cleveland voucher program started in 1996, shows a very different story. In Milwaukee, analyses indicate that voucher schools received about $1,000 more per student than comparable public schools for the1996-97 school year. In addition, private schools are not required to have mandated services such as, special education, ESL, transportation, breakfast and lunch programs, which is accounted for in the money that the public schools receive per pupil. “The most reasonable conclusion,” notes researcher Henry Levin, “Is that voucher schools in Milwaukee are receiving at least comparable allocations per student to those of the Milwaukee Public Schools, once the service mix is accounted for.” Voucher schools do not cost less to operate and in many cases, they cost more, taking precious funds away from public schools that are trying to reform.
Voucher money likely would end up in the hands of private-school parents, essentially subsidizing those who already have fled the public school system, instead of creating incentive for public-school reform. Cleveland last month joined Milwaukee as the only school systems with vouchers. However, 27 percent of the 1,864 low-income kids in the Cleveland program were already in private schools.
Private schools often charge high tuition. Since vouchers usually will not cover the full cost of tuition, the wealthy, who can already afford to pay private school tuition, will benefit the most. Low and middle-income families, who will not be able to afford the difference between the voucher and tuition costs, will be less likely to benefit. Even if poor families could come up with the full tuition amount, few private schools are located in the nation s inner cities or other economically depressed areas. Fewer still are likely to admit children from disadvantaged backgrounds. For this reason, 45% of students participating in the Milwaukee program attend Catholic schools because they cost less. In any event, no voucher plan will benefit more than a small number of poor children.
A voucher system also will not work if kids who want to leave public schools have no place to go, as many will not. Voucher supporters claim new private schools will spring up to meet new demand. However, this may be wishful thinking. “Many private schools believe government money means government regulation and do not want to take it,” says Joe McTighe, executive director of the Council of American Private Education.
Proponents of vouchers feel that they are being unfairly taxed or taxed twice but “Double taxation” does not exist. Private school tuition is not a tax; it is an additional expense some parents have chosen to pay. All members of society are expected to support certain basic public services such as the police and fire departments, libraries and the public schools, whether they use them or not. (Childless couples and single people, for instance, must still pay school taxes.) We all have a vested interest in maintaining a strong public school system to make certain that our people are educated. Under a voucher plan, all taxpayers will face double taxation. They will have to pay for public schools, then pay-increased taxes to make up for funds being channeled too parochial and other private schools.
The heavily contested issue of whether public money should be used to subsidize private, religious schools has raged on for over 50 years and will continue to as long as people challenge the constitution. Proponents believe vouchers will give opportunities to the poor, freedom of religion to all, and help begin a trend of reform in public schools. However, opponents fear that school vouchers will blur the lines separating church and state, and cause undue harm to the public school system. If nothing else it works for its designed purpose of creating a neutral environment that fosters learning. This neutrality has made possible the spread of tolerance to other institutions in our society. Children who learn to live together without religious distinctions are prepared as adults to build a more cooperative world.