Across the country, public schools are feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. The school system my daughter and son attend has increased class sizes, and some popular programs are on the chopping block.
This, then, would seem to be a poor time to divert tax money into religious and other private schools. (Learn more here.) Yet consider what’s going on in several states:
Ohio: Gov. John Kasich has told public education officials to expect cuts totaling $1.3 billion. Some high school classes might increase to 36 students, and some programs will be cut. Nevertheless, Kasich has called for expanding Ohio’s private school voucher program, which currently has 14,000 students taking part, to 60,000.
Indiana: Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has told educators to expect no increase in funding this year for public schools. Funding levels have not increased since 2009. But Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels are aggressively pushing a multi-million-dollar, statewide voucher plan that could subsidize private schools to the tune of $5,500 per student.
New Jersey: A state court has ruled that cuts to public education pushed through by Gov. Chris Christie have left the state unable to provide a “thorough and efficient” education to the 1.4 million school-aged children in New Jersey. Christie slashed state aid to public schools by more than $800 million last year. Yet this year, he has proposed spending $360 million on voucher aid to religious schools.
Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Corbett has submitted a budget that cuts K-12 education by $550 million. He recommends that public school employees accept salary freezes. Meanwhile, Corbett and his allies in the state Senate are aggressively pushing a voucher plan that could cost as much as $1 billion.
That’s just four states. As I reported in Church & State in February, voucher bills are sweeping the states at the same time most places are making deep cuts to public education. It’s beyond ironic.
And don’t even give me any of this nonsense about how vouchers save money by reducing the number of youngsters attending public schools. A handful of kids leaving a school has no appreciable effect on the budget. Most costs are fixed. A teacher’s salary remains the same whether her class has 25 pupils or 27. The electricity bill doesn’t go down; the janitor must still be paid.
Public schools serve 90 percent of America’s children. If we’re serious about education, they must be our focus. The recent round of budget cuts coupled with voucher bills is a frontal assault on two important principles: church-state separation and public schools.
It’s time to speak out. Want some resources? Remember, AU's website has a special section on vouches and is a great place to start.
P.S. Don’t forget that Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Ohio) is pushing to revive a voucher “experiment” in Washington, D.C. – even though the “experiment” has already been shown to be a failure. This drive has never been about helping children. It’s about a relentless political ideology that hates public education.