The Freedom From Religion Foundation is condemning the Trump administration’s latest attempt to weaken public schools and send taxpayer money to private religious schools. According to reports, President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have seized on the pandemic to facilitate this.
Last week, the Senate tried to direct billions of taxpayer dollars to private religious schools under the guise of pandemic relief in the so-called “skinny bill.” In reality, that would have basically created a federally funded voucher program, propped up existing state voucher programs and allowed families to use 529 accounts for homeschooling (defeating their purpose as a way to save for college costs). The bill fortunately was voted down, but Trump and DeVos seem undeterred.
“School choice” has always been a lie. Vouchers were devised by racists to fight back against school desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education. While the roots of the voucher tree were fed by white supremacy, the movement was later co-opted by Christian Nationalists as a way to undermine public schools and ensure indoctrination in religious schools.
The noxious mix of these two evils led to a rebranding as “school choice.” But the intent was clear, as revealed by the executive director of National School Choice Week: “I would like to think that, yes, Jesus would destroy the public education temple and save the children from despair and a hopeless future.” The vast majority of private schools are religiously segregated.
Discrimination and religion remain the twin pillars of school choice to this day. Because nearly all voucher schools are religious, they can and often do discriminate. LGBTQ, differently abled, special needs and religious minority students often face the most obvious and worst discrimination. But the same rationale that allows these schools to discriminate in this could arguably apply to racial discrimination. This is already happening. For instance, in 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice alleged that Louisiana's state voucher program was exacerbating racial segregation in the state.
FFRF has debunked the popular myths put forward to support vouchers, one of the most popular being that vouchers rescue or save children from failing public schools. That’s simply wrong. Most vouchers go to children who are already enrolled in private schools, meaning taxpayers are simply subsidizing the religious education of people who can already afford that private education. In the first year of its neo-voucher program, Georgia “private school enrollment only increased by one-third of 1 percent.”
Forcing taxpayers to fund religious education is a violation of the religious freedom of every taxpayer, something the Supreme Court quite literally ignored in the Espinoza decision this summer. Funding a parallel education system with no public accountability or oversight is also bad policy. Not only does it lead to fraud, abuse, discrimination, and the state-church entanglements already mentioned, it also doesn’t work. Vouchers have been far from successful. Private religious schools do not turn out better students than public schools.
The solution to this hurricane of segregation, religious discrimination, fraud, constitutional violations and fruitless spending is obvious: Fully fund public schools open to all with taxpayer money, and stop siphoning off this precious funding to promote religiously segregated education.