FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS
Some Christians, mainly Roman Catholics and conservative Protestants, have strongly supported the transfer of government
revenue to religious schools. However, direct financial support has been
unconstitutional, because of the principle of separation of church and
state which is part of the Establishment Clause of
the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A recent technique that may
avoid this conflict has been to promote "school
voucher" programs at the state or municipal level. In this system, the government gives a voucher to parents that
they may use to pay for part of the fee for
enrolling a child in a private school. In effect, the state would be returning
money collected from parents in the form of taxes for the public school system,
so that they could help finance their child's education in a private school,
either religious or secular.
The Sixth U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals found in 2000-DEC that close to 96% of
students enrolled in a voucher program for the 1999-2000 school year attended
sectarian institutions. Thus, voucher programs indirectly
finances religious schools with government funding. Public voucher plans seriously entangle the government and
There have also been many private plans which have given such vouchers
When evaluating government plans, courts have traditionally cited:
||The First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution which has been interpreted by the courts as implying a wall of separation between church and state.|
|The historic Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) U.S. Supreme Court case which
laid out the so-called "Lemon Test." Under Lemon, any
- Must have a secular legislative purpose;
- The primary or principal effect of the statute must be one that
neither advances nor inhibits religion; and
- The statute must not foster excessive government entanglement
Nathan Lewin commented:
"On the one hand, over the years the [U.S. Supreme] Court has
permitted programs that reimbursed parents of religious-school children for
public-transportation expenses, that loaned secular textbooks to students in
religious schools, that provided construction and other grants to religious
colleges for secular purposes, and that reimbursed religious schools for the
expense of administering and grading standardized tests. On the other hand, the
Court has struck down government programs that provided remedial-education
classes taught by public-school teachers to religious-school students, that
loaned secular instructional materials and equipmentsuch as maps, film
projectors, and lab equipmentto religious schools, and that reimbursed
low-income parents for tuition expenses at private schools." 1
In mid-2002, the U.S. Supreme Court declared a Cleveland voucher plan
constitutional: It "...allows
parents to receive tuition assistance to help their children escape
failing public schools-in some cases, by attending private religious
ones." Parents can also use the money to fund tuition at a secular
private school. Social and religious conservative who favor weakening
the wall of separation between church and state, and/or "strengthening
parental control [over education], and [/or] weakening the government
monopoly in education have applauded the ruling." 2
Those favoring the wall of separation between church and state were
disappointed, as are those who favor a strong public school system.
Taking some children out of a failing public school reduces the level of government grants
to that school, driving it further into failure.
Vouchers are a controversial topic:
||According to Time Magazine:
"Vouchers' supporters see them as a
revolutionary instrument--capable, in the short run, of rescuing poor kids
from bad public schools and, in the long term, of forcing that education
system to compete in a free market. But critics say vouchers will destroy
the public schools by turning them into repositories for America's
unwilling, or unwanted, schoolchildren. And they say that voucher programs,
especially ones that include religious schools, will Balkanize America by
abandoning its common core of teachings and traditions." 3
||Vouchers are seen by some parents in a positive light because they lower the cost of educating their children in private schools. They
would no longer have to fully support both the
public and their private school systems in order to send their children to
be educated outside the public system.
||Some parents value placing their children in a religious school because
they have greater control over their religious education. Their children
will not be exposed to fellow students who follow other religions. The
school curriculum is unlikely to consider other faith groups as equivalent
to the families' religion.
||A study of Cleveland's pilot program by researchers at Harvard University
showed that two-thirds of the "voucher parents were 'very satisfied'
with the academic quality of their children's private schools, compared with
only 30% of parents who stuck with public schools." 3
||Voucher programs are seen as a threat by many public school boards because
they feel that both their funding and the number of their students would be
reduced. Private schools
may remove students selectively from the public system in a process called
"cream-skimming." This would leave behind a larger percentage of students who are handicapped, disabled,
unmotivated, disruptive or with poor academic achievement. It would also remove highly motivated parents from involvement
with the public school system.
||Some view public schools as inherently superior to
private schools because they expose their students to a wider range of
cultures, religions, traditions, races, economic levels, etc. Adam Cohen of Time
"Public schools have long held the promise of being America's
great equalizer, mixing students of different races, classes and religions
in a single student body. At their best, public schools have united diverse
groups of students, many of them immigrants, by passing on the nation's
shared civic heritage, from George Washington to George Washington Carver.
Public schools have the ability to teach democracy simply by being open to
all children, and regarding them--and their backgrounds and religions--as
equally worthy. 'Nobody claims private schools can't teach tolerance, mutual
respect and nondiscrimination,' says Princeton political science professor
Amy Gutmann. 'But in public schools, they are taught as much by the mixing
of students as they are by the curriculum.' " 3
||In generally, religious groups have difficulty
handling rapid change, particularly on items
related to morality. This is reflected in the curriculum of the schools that
they sponsor. Some sectarian private schools have only slowly responded to
major moral changes in society: bringing an end to racial segregation,
granting equality to women, granting equality to persons with homosexual or
bisexual orientation, etc. The result is that they graduate students whose
moral standards are not well matched to the expectations of the culture in their future life as adults.
||During a pilot study in Milwaukee WI, some religious schools resisted
having to follow Wisconsin's Pupil Nondiscrimination Act. This
prohibits schools from discriminating against students on the basis of
gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or physical, mental, emotional or
learning disability. The state excused them from meeting the requirements of the
||Voucher programs funnel tax money into private schools, but generally do
not require these schools to meet financial, achievement, attendance,
quality accountability standards. Private schools also do not have to be
responsible to the parents of their students.
||Vouchers represent a serious challenge to the separation of church and
state. In the late 1990s, a study of a pilot voucher programs in Cleveland OH found
that 80% of the vouchers were used to fund attendance at private religious
schools. The U.S. Supreme Court has found that a New York state voucher
system was unconstitutional because its primary effect was to advance
religion. 4 The state had given tuition reimbursement
payments to low-income parents whose children attended private schools. In
about 85% of the cases, the schools were religious in nature.
||Depending upon how the legislation is worded, government vouchers may
represent a snare to private schools. Referring to the "GI Bill for
Children" a federal voucher plan proposed by the Bush
administration in 1992, the conservative Heritage Foundation warned
that the plan
"easily could lead to onerous federal regulation of
private schools...The Bush proposal seeks to subject private schools to the
onerous array of federal civil rights laws. The bill lists six civil
rights statutes and states that 'a school or provider of supplementary
academic services that receives scholarship funds under this Act shall,
as a condition of participation under this Act, comply with the
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Nathan Lewin, "Are vouchers constitutional?: Yes, and here's how to
design them," Policy Review, 1999-JAN-FEB, #93.
- "Religious Liberty Update-School Choice In, 'Under God' Out?,"
CultureFacts, a news release from the Family Research Council, 2002-JUL-5.
Adam Cohen, "A first report card on vouchers: Cleveland's program
gets mixed grades. Parents are happier, but students may not be learning
more. And vouchers may be dividing the city," Time, 1999-APR-19.
Online at: http://www.cnn.com/
Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist (1973), 413 U.S.
Allyson Tucker, "Assessing Bush's school voucher plan,"
The Heritage Foundation, 1992-JUL-20. See: http://www.heritage.org/
Copyright © 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2000-MAR-15
Latest update: 2006-DEC-13
Author: B.A. Robinson