Would Vouchers Save Christian Schools — Or Nationalize and Secularize Them?
As the beneficiary of 12 years of Catholic schooling in New York City, when I learned that Donald Trump’s proposed education budget includes $250 million for vouchers, I had very mixed feelings. They’re still mixed, and I’ll explain why.
Under pressure from powerful unions eager to protect incompetent teachers, New York City just eliminated basic literacy tests — not for students, but for teachers.
The Case for Vouchers
Private religious schools are suffering, and many are closing. It is simple justice that parents be allowed to direct the taxes they’re paying for schools to the places they actually use. In many areas public schools are unusable for a wide variety of reasons:
- Simple bodily safety. Imagine the plight of families in murder capitals today, like Chicago or Washington, D.C. You shouldn’t have to worry each morning as you send your kids off to school whether you’ll ever see them again. But in many places, you do.
- Plummeting quality. Under pressure from powerful unions eager to protect incompetent teachers, New York City just eliminated basic literacy tests — not for students, but for teachers. Everywhere public school unions wield this kind of power, they will exert a downward pressure on standards. This harms thousands of poor, mostly non-white children with no other realistic options.
- Ideology, indoctrination and explicit sex education — some of it conducted by Planned Parenthood, which offers workshops and videos introducing young teens to “safe,” “fun” ways to use whips and chains during sex.
- Nihilism that saps the youthful spirit and schools students’ souls for Hell.
Even if you take the first three items above away, and think of exceptional school systems like the one in Highland Park, Texas, the Hell issue is decisive.
Education Without a Soul
Education conducted in the desolate secular void that courts have imposed on America’s classrooms does not prepare us for real life, either in this world or the next one. Do we really want our kids exposed to dozens of authority figures, forming their worldviews and values, who are forbidden by bad laws and policies from teaching even the basics about the Judaeo-Christian roots of our civilization? (In New Jersey, of course, they are mandated to practically evangelize for Islam.)
Nihilism taught in classrooms saps the youthful spirit and schools students’ souls for Hell.
Do we want them looking up to teachers trained at education programs to ground all discussion of ethics on utilitarian hedonism — the greatest number of pleasurable moments for the greatest number of voters? It’s this logic that leads philosophers like Princeton’s Pete Singer to claim that a chimpanzee has more “value” than a handicapped human infant, as an argument for euthanasia. But this is the dominant strain of secular ethics today.
Faith-Based Schools are an Oasis
Religious schools, particularly Christian ones, can avoid most of the traps laid out above — though not all of them do. One of the key reasons they are free to do so is that they don’t receive significant government funds. This combined with the (sadly narrowing) First Amendment protections traditionally accorded religious institutions allows significant freedom for church-based schools to teach straightforward classes in religion. It also leaves them free to incorporate Christian ethics in their presentation of moral issues and politics, and to follow basic “lifestyle” rules in hiring. A few Christian schools here and there have been sued for refusing to employ — as educators and role models — people in same-sex “marriages,” for instance. But generally, the freedom of such schools to hew to their founding missions is mostly intact, for now.
Vouchers that allowed parents to direct tax revenue to the schools or home-schools which they actually use would be welcome for many reasons. Obviously, they would provide a much-needed revenue boost, and increase enrollments. Vouchers would offer an escape route for disadvantaged students to escape failing public schools with semi-literate teachers, where elaborate rules often prevent dangerous troublemakers from being expelled. Clarence Thomas is one example of a poor but gifted student whom Catholic schools helped to educate and form. The next Clarence Thomas might only be able to get such an education thanks to vouchers.
Why Vouchers are Dangerous
But what else would vouchers do? We saw that President Obama, with the stroke of a pen, was able to use the financial string of Title IX funding to impose his insane transgender bathroom diktat on public schools across the country. If vouchers are in place, and religious schools have used them to expand, even become dependent on them, what happens the next time a Democratic president is elected? Or even a squishy Republican? (For that matter, the non-squishy Donald Trump has yet to make good on most of his religious liberty promises to Christians.)
By accepting vouchers, religious school would become the equivalent of federal contractors. Remember how Obama imposed the LGBT agenda on those?
Surely no one doubts that the same LGBT radicals who seek prosecution for bakers and florists would use the existence of vouchers to demand that religious schools abandon their defense of natural, biblical marriage. Would a future liberal Secretary of Education resist Planned Parenthood’s demands that it be allowed into religious schools as well? Does anyone really think so? What’s worse, even the prospect that such regulations might be introduced would give ammunition to progressives inside such schools who battle to dismantle their robustly Christian characters.
By accepting vouchers, religious school would become the equivalent of federal contractors. We saw the Obama administration impose the LGBT agenda on such contractors who provide aid to refugees — with no need to consult Congress. Obama’s HHS used Obamacare’s mandate to try to force the Little Sisters of the Poor, and privately held companies like Hobby Lobby, to pay for abortion pills. We saw the State of California come within a hair’s breadth of using Title IX funds to force religious colleges to abandon their morals policies, or face financial ruin. Why would we think that the same fate wouldn’t face schools that accepted vouchers?
Even worse, if vouchers applied to home schools, then home school programs would become subject to federal oversight in their materials. Even in the absence of federal funds, Common Core has exerted a toxic effect on private Christian and home school curricula. Imagine how much worse the pressure would be to hew to national standards on LGBT or life issues, if the feds wielded the stick of a quarter-billion dollars in vouchers.
Big Brother’s Nose Under the Tent
As well-intentioned as advocates of vouchers surely are, no one has made a convincing case that vouchers won’t prove, within just a few years, to be weapons that the federal government wields to secularize and radicalize the last few nooks and crannies of American education. With our court system, in the intense atmosphere of intolerance for Christian morals that is emerging in our culture, how could we expect any other outcome? By nationalizing funding for private and even home schools, we are essentially nationalizing the schools. Does that sound like a safe bet to you?
A much better option is tax credits, refundable like the Earned Income Tax Credit, which give money directly back to parents and let them spend it as they see fit.
A much better option is tax credits, refundable like the Earned Income Tax Credit, which give money directly back to parents and let them spend it as they see fit. By taking out Uncle Sam as the meddling middleman, such credits would allow money to find its way to private educators, without turning every Christian school or even home school into a football for federal bureaucrats. Of course, this involves trusting parents not to blow the money at Vegas. (We already have laws that require parents to see that their kids get educated.) But it’s better than trusting future presidents’ appointees with the schools and the souls of our children.