Vouching For Failure

It’s Time To Shut Down The Voucher ‘Experiment’

The U.S. Supreme Court let the country down in 2002 when it upheld Ohio’s voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools.

Thankfully, state courts are still upholding basic American principles on this issue. They are declaring vouchers a violation of state constitutions.

At least 37 states contain provisions explicitly barring the diversion of tax funds to religious institutions. Voucher advocates assert that these provisions are an example of bigotry toward religious groups. In fact, they represent a concern that goes all the way back to days of our nation’s founding: No one should be forced against his or her will to pay for religion.

In March, the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously struck down two voucher plans. Upholding the programs, the court wrote, would require the justices to ignore the plain language of the Arizona Constitution.

Florida’s Supreme Court has also struck down vouchers, although in that case the court relied on another provision of the state constitution, not its church-state language.

Alongside these court rulings, another interesting development is unfolding: Some proponents who had backed vouchers are moving away from the idea. Earlier this year, Greg Anrig of the Century Foundation penned an article for Christian Century titled “A failed experiment.” Anrig wrote about disillusioned voucher boosters dropping their support. It is a significant, if underreported, development.

Why is this happening?

Anrig notes that vouchers have simply not delivered. They were pitched as a way to boost student achievement, yet objective studies have shown that students who receive vouchers do no better academically than their counterparts in public schools. (The most recent study of Milwaukee’s long-running voucher plan found – surprise! – no difference between voucher and non-voucher students.)

At the same time, savvy private school advocates have continued to remind everyone that vouchers could lead to government control of private and religious schools. A Massachusetts man recently made this point in a March 29 letter to the conservative National Catholic Register. Tax funding in other countries, he observed, has led to religious schools being forced to teach sex education and tolerance of gays as well as provide information about same-sex marriage.

Because these schools accepted government funds, the writer pointed out, “the government has the right, according to the fund providers, to regulate what is taught.”

This is not news to Americans United; we’ve been saying it for years. It’s good to see that the point is not lost on some conservatives.

The great voucher “experiment” was launched in the early 1990s with promises of great things to come. That experiment has failed. Vouchers don’t work, and they infringe on Americans’ religious liberty rights.

The voucher programs that remain in the states should be shut down, as should the federally funded plan that operates in Washington, D.C. Tax money should go only to the public schools – the system that educates 90 percent of America’s children and welcomes everyone, regardless of race or creed.