I’ve had occasion to hear followers of the Tea Party speak at Religious Right gatherings. To put it mildly, they seem to be very perturbed over government spending. They claim they want lower taxes, less spending and smaller government.
So what are they doing in Pennsylvania demanding that the state government create a massive new welfare program for religious and other private schools?
Dick Armey (remember him?) was in the Keystone State recently rallying the Tea Party faithful on behalf of a proposal to divert as much as $1 billion in taxpayer money into a voucher program. Armey’s group, FreedomWorks, is really turning up the heat. According to The Washington Post, Armey has personally lobbied legislators in Harrisburg and has appeared at events around the state.
Reported The Post, “The goal for FreedomWorks is two-fold: to keep activists engaged enough to enter 2012 with a grassroots network at least as strong as the one that played so dramatic a role last year; and to use that network right now to push newly elected conservatives to accomplish something while in power.”
In Pennsylvania, that “something” appears to be a wide-ranging voucher scheme that might eventually cover the entire state. Gov. Tom Corbett backs the plan, and the state Senate plans to vote on it this week.
Although vouchers are often portrayed as an effort to help children trapped in poor-performing public schools, they are actually bailouts for private religious education.
Across Pennsylvania, many Catholic schools are closing. Much of this is due to a cultural shift. There was a time when Catholics felt duty bound to send their children to church schools – even if their neighborhood public schools were well regarded. Those days are long gone. Many Catholic parents today are happy to rely on public schools. Facing dwindling enrollments, church schools are going under.
Should it be up to you and other taxpayers to bail them out? Armey seems to think so, but I find this a curious stand for a limited-government guy to take. It looks like parents are voting with their feet. If market forces are closing these private schools, who are we to try to shake off the old Invisible Hand?
As for Armey’s alliance with the Tea Party, I suspect it’s designed mostly to benefit Armey. I recall that in the late 1990s, Armey, who had never been known for his personal piety, suddenly decided he was born again and began popping up at Religious Right meetings, appealing for support by giving speeches attacking legal abortion and calling for more religion in public life.
Armey, a Texas Republican who served as House Majority Leader from 1995-2003, had never cared much about these issues before and has said little about them since leaving office. He’s now back on the anti-government tirade: FreedomWorks doesn’t like public schools because it doesn’t like public anything. The man will ride whatever train will allow him on board. If it’s the Tea Party express, so be it.
I am a native of Pennsylvania and would advise my friends in that state to take alarm. Armey and his Tea Party pals don’t believe in the concept of public education. In fact, they’d like to abolish it. The voucher plan is the first step toward that goal.
It’s a crucial time for Pennsylvania, so get on the phone, fire up the e-mails and start spreading the word. Armey wants you to pay for someone else’s religion. Tell your legislators that you find that unacceptable. Demand that they support public education and church-state separation.
For good measure, ask them to send the interloper Armey back to Texas.