Monday, November 15, 2010

Rep. John Kline Supports Religious School Vouchers

Rep. John Kline (R-MN-02) is expected to chair the House Education and Labor Committee when the new Congress convenes this January. One of the first changes he'll propose is bring back and perhaps expanding the five year experimental program for school vouchers that Obama let lapse last year.

The DC School Choice Incentive Act of 2003 established the first federally funded private school voucher program in the United States, providing scholarships of up to $7,500 for low-income residents of the District of Columbia to send their children to local participating private schools. While initially the programs was to see if educational attainment and student safety improved, over the five year period, neither happen.

While not boosting student academic achievement, it did serve to prop up financially shaky religious schools at taxpayer expense. Catholics especially have been lobbying for vouchers as it will help to stave off school closings — about 250 a year nationwide. Now that they have a friend in Rep. John Kline, religious groups are pressing hard for the House Education committee to once again approve vouchers.

Most private and religious schools gain with school vouchers, but public schools would be the biggest losers especially with funding. It’s a fallacy that every child in a private school saves the public schools money. There are certain set expenses of public schools that don't change like overhead for the buildings, liability insurance and janitorial needs. And while public schools have to meet certain standards, private and religious schools do not.

Moreover, where is the extra money going to come from to fund the vouchers? Either our taxes will rise, or the public school budgets will be reduced even further making them unable to provide adequate education basics. Most Americans understand the need for an educated workforce and don’t mind paying more taxes for the public schools but they would object to more taxes for subsidizing private, and especially religious school tuition.

While Kline supports removing funds from public schools and sending them largely to church-run parochial schools, at the same time he feels it's grossly unfair to hold those schools to the same standards as public schools.

Public schools are required to meet specific standards like curriculum, teacher certification, facilities, and standardized test scores; private/religious schools do not! Additionally there will be additional cost incurred in monitoring these schools. How will they be compared when public schools and private/religious schools are not on a level playing field?

The vast majority of students in voucher programs attend religious schools rather than secular private schools, which tend to be more expensive. Funneling public tax money into religious institutions violates the Constitutional principle of separation between church and state. Again, while most support public education, many do no want to pay for someone else's religious education. The voucher program subvert the constitutional principle of separation of church and state and threaten to undermine our system of public education.

Rep. John Kline won't let facts stand in the way of advocating for vouchers, or merit incentives, or parent triggers, or charter schools. Now that Kline will chair the House Education committee, look for the education system to be even more compromised and replaced with a less functional and more costly alternatives like vouchers.

I'll blog more on what to expect in the way of changes to education now that Kline will be leading the House Committee later this week.

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