It was very interesting to watch the recent Republican National Convention. Since I am an educator, I was particularly interested in the speech by a young black man from Florida who credited his academic success to former Gov. Jeb Bush for allowing him to choose which high school he attended.
There was a lot of talk about school choice at that convention, and it has continued since even here in Montana. Rick Hill supports the same position. It is important to understand what school choice really means. In practice what is being promoted is the voucher system. The state gives parents a voucher, essentially a check, to take to the school of their choice.
Options, choices are normally good. Right? In this case church operated schools are among the choices available. Here is where the issue arises. Church schools exist for the purpose of promoting religion.
There are classes in religion and additionally religious philosophy transcends the entire curriculum. For example teaching creationism may be part of the science program. It is not my intent to debate the validity of creationism here. The issue is that tax dollars, public money, the vouchers, are being used to promote religion. Article I in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or the free exercise thereof … .” Supporting church-operated schools with tax dollars is blatantly unconstitutional. There are other problems as well. The resources are diverted from public schools that are required to provide more expensive services to handicapped students and more.
Our Founding Fathers had just come from countries where there was no distinction between church and state. The state was controlled by the church which resulted in terrible religious persecution. There are some in this country who would return us to that condition, who tell us that separation of church and state is obsolete. History tells us otherwise.
Our Founding Fathers also understood that a strong public education system was the foundation of democracy. Our democracy cannot survive without a thoughtful educated electorate. We don’t have to look far to see what happens in countries where this does not exist.
I believe in church schools. I am a product of church schools. My first exposure to public education was when I enrolled in a master’s program at Montana State University. I was very well prepared for that experience and I was very successful. This is a tough financial time for church schools, but we cannot resort to an unconstitutional method to fund them. We dare not elect those who promote this concept.