Vouchers Again..

When we look at the growth of America’s polarization, and the reasons for it, we need to recognize the significant contribution made by voucher programs.

I have frequently written about the mythology of so-called “school choice” programs. The original argument was that they would allow poor children to escape sub-standard public schools, that children attending them would receive better educations, and that competition with “government schools” would trigger improvement in those schools. (The critics constantly complaining about the nation’s public schools for some reason never suggested putting additional fiscal or human resources into improving those schools. Instead, the “fix” was entirely punitive– siphoning off existing resources in order to generate competition.)

It is now pretty clear that the actual motivation for privatizing education was as a mechanism to evade the First Amendment’s prohibition against sending tax dollars to religious institutions (destroying teachers’ unions was the cherry on top….). Proponents successfully argued that the money was going to parents, who were then free to choose religious schools if they wished.

Of course, the vast majority of schools accepting vouchers are religious–and the vast majority of families using vouchers send their children to those religious schools. Meanwhile, those initial promises remain unfilled: voucher students have not performed better on standardized tests (often, quite the contrary); a majority of the families using vouchers are middle and upper-middle income, not poor; and far from triggering improvement in the nation’s irreplaceable public school systems, the programs have impoverished and hobbled them.

Most people who are familiar with the performance of voucher programs know all this. What is less well understood is how educational vouchers have deepened American divisions. A recent report from In The Public Interest focuses on how and why.

The report looks at what voucher schools do with the public dollars being bled from public schools.

They preach—and practice—discrimination. Education Voters of Pennsylvania has pulled together a list of the ways voucher schools have discriminated in that state, and Illinois Families for Public Schools has done the same for Illinois—both make for bracing reading.  But what’s true for Illinois and Pennsylvania is true across the country.

The study documents discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, discrimination on the basis of religion, and discrimination against students requiring special education attention. A large number of religious schools also teach that women should not have the same rights as men. In Wisconsin, Lutheran schools receiving public money hold to the following beliefs:

Since God appointed the husband to be the head of the wife (Eph 5:23), the husband will love and care for his God-given wife (1 Pe 3:7). A wife will gladly accept the leadership of her husband as her God-appointed head (Eph 5:22-24).

In church assemblies the headship principle means that only men will cast votes when such votes exercise authority over men. Only men will do work that involves authority over men (1 Co 11:3-10; 14:33-35; 1 Ti 2:11,12).

 Women are encouraged to participate in offices and activities of the public ministry except where the work involves authority over men.

The Arizona Lutheran Academy website includes the following text:

Many families are surprised to learn about the options and come to realize a private, Christian education can be a reality. It is rewarding to walk families through the tuition assistance process and see how God provides in ways that some never knew existed.

As the Executive Director of In The Public Interest wryly commented, “Well, not God, exactly. All of us are paying for it with money intended for public schools.”

Discrimination paid for with public money is bad enough, but what is worse is that voucher schools– especially but not exclusively religious voucher schools–can teach (or omit teaching) pretty much anything they want. A colleague and I looked at Indiana’s voucher schools a few years back, and found few of them bothering with civics.

More to the point, historians tell us that public schools were intended to be constitutive of a public. In other words, America’s public schools were established to do more than teach subject matter, important as that task is. They were meant to undergird e pluribus unum–to create an over-arching unity from our diversity. Residential segregation has always made that goal difficult, but even in neighborhoods where the children come from similar socio-economic households, they bring other differences to the classroom, where they should learn that the American Idea respects those differences but also welcomes all of them to a common civic table.

Enormous amounts of our tax dollars are being spent to avoid those lessons. Vouchers are contributing to America’s polarization and to the growth of Christian Nationalism–and they are doing so without producing any of the educational benefits originally promised.

They’re a very expensive scam.


  1. Vouchers, as most rational people know, is just more elitist bullshit from people who don’t want to pay taxes, had trouble in school themselves and think the teachers of their children are second-class professionals.

    In my book, “Saving the Seed Corn”, I highlight many of the reasons this segment of the population practices such self-destructive behavior. Maybe it’s part of Marx’s predictions about capitalists destroying themselves.

  2. I recently posted here that the Indiana Legislature had approved allowing Charter schools to apply for Private status which qualifies them to receive vouchers, an additional drain on Public Education Budgets.

    Having a family member (raised in the Catholic religion but no longer active) who has worked in a Catholic school and church for more than 20 years, I learned that all voucher students are required to participate in the religious classes teaching Catholicism. They are not required to participate in the prayers. My two grandsons attended the Catholic school (not the church) for almost two years before she removed them due to continued, and ignored, bullying of her son with a disability and the younger son bullied for being his brother. They had previously been in a Charter school with the same bullying being ignored; she home schooled them through high school.

    “Vouchers are contributing to America’s polarization and to the growth of Christian Nationalism–and they are doing so without producing any of the educational benefits originally promised.”

    Vouchers are now an expensive government backed form of brain-washing; indoctrination of the nation’s youth, now an acceptable form of education which sounds like the enforced “Hitler’s Youth” programs in the 1930s.

    “They’re a very expensive scam.” Be sure to watch the latest criminal trial jury selection beginning today against America’s leading White Nationalist, Donald Trump. His third sex-based trial and historical as the first ex-president to be indicted in four major criminal cases after surviving TWO impeachments due to his sitting White Nationalists in Congress.

  3. That report is as eye-opening as it is frightening. I had no idea.
    If schools are going to take public money there needs to be oversight and accountability. But those ideas, of course, are not supported by the Legislature.
    If a democracy depends on a well-educated public, it stands to reason that those who are dedicated to ending democracy in America would work to destroy public education, along with other civic institutions.

  4. It’s almost like there is an underground effort to subvert everything about our country. And the effort is coming from both inside and outside.

  5. 1) The Indiana Supreme Court held that vouchers do not violate either the First Amendment, as incorporated by and extended to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment or Indiana Constitution prohibiting $ going to religious institutions because the $ actually goes to the parents. 2) That type of reasoning propped up Jim Crow laws (e.g., we ain’t disrciminatin’ ‘gainst you, only keep things away from ya ’cause your grandpappy coudln’t vote. (sorry but this pisses me off) 3) Rachel Maddow writes in “Prequel” that Hitler loved the race laws of the United States so much that he sent a Nazi lawyer to research our race laws as patterns. 4) The idea for the Nuremburg race laws originated in the USA & lives on in Indiana.

  6. Vouchers have been a great divider in our community as the racists who live within the city limits can drive their kiddos out to 98% white county schools. Inner city schools are now around 45% minorities. White people don’t want their kids hanging around “gangs” and learning “ethnic” music.

    Most religious schools, such as county schools, are maxed out. Cars line up around the schools at 3:15 to pick up their entitled kiddos. We even gave the local university ownership of the city schools, but that has yet to result in a return of students from the county.

    The word I hear the most from those shunning public schools is “indoctrination.” These folks claiming to be religious don’t want their entitled kiddos to be exposed to woke teachers and secular values. They argue that public schools are responsible for everything that ails the country. Therefore, a God-centered life is needed to reshape the family unit.

    Republicans and their media have demonized public schools, and the saps following the MAGA leaders have bought into it. MAGA is a cult!

  7. Whatever happened to the Constitutionally mandated separation of church and state? Publicly funded schools should not and cannot be religion-based, per the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause (and Thomas Jefferson’s explicit warnings). In the recent past I recall our church leadership being so so careful as to not lean over any political line in church activities as to be quaint compared to the increasingly blatant use of school vouchers. Sorry Christian Nationalists but I not only do not share your beliefs but surely don’t want a penny of my tax dollars going toward vouchers for the teaching of those beliefs in your schools. The First Amendment to our Constitution should be the guarantee against that.

  8. Sorry to say that one of the greats in my pantheon of education heroes, the late John Holt, believed that a voucher system would help alleviate the education gap. As clear-headed and visionary as he was in regards to other aspects of American education, unfortunately, he was wrong about vouchers.

  9. Years ago college-educated friends sent their son (now 49) to a private religious school using the tuition as a tithe so it would be tax-deductible. When the child graduated and started community college, remedial courses were required in all areas. Enough said!

  10. Entrepreneurs are quickly moving in. Here in Voucher country Florida we see pop up schools rising—a reported 52 in the Tallahassee area alone. And to serve those who are getting 8K+ to home school their kids, “enrichment” academies are springing up to help the parents spend that money.

  11. Why don’t I get a say in how my school taxes are spent as I do have children in public schools? I deeply resent the taxes I paid being diverted from public schools. The logical extension of the idea that parents choosing where their tax dollars go is that I as a taxpayer who never had children in school should not have to pay for schools at all. I believe in paying taxes for the common good. Vouchers and schools that aren’t open to all are not benefiting the public good.

  12. Why don’t I get a say in how my school taxes are spent as I do not have children in public schools? I deeply resent the taxes I paid being diverted from public schools. The logical extension of the idea that parents choosing where their tax dollars go is that I as a taxpayer who never had children in school should not have to pay for schools at all. I believe in paying taxes for the common good. Vouchers and schools that aren’t open to all are not benefiting the public good.

  13. Below is my paraphrase of the Arizona Lutheran Academy website’s statement that reflects the truth:
    Many families are surprised to learn about the options and come to realize a private, Christian education can be a reality. ‘It is rewarding to walk families through the tuition assistance process to see how our state legislature has crafted a legal way to steal money from the public school systems and send it to our religious school in ways that some never knew existed’.”

  14. From what I have read, most vouchers are used by students to attend bigger public schools. Have any documentation to prove otherwise?

  15. It works! If you (current parents) have not been educated in civics (separation of church and state) or critical thinking…this is what we get. Wanna really worry…the next generations…IGIO

  16. I don’t know what sources you have consulted, but no research supports that conclusion. Few if any students use vouchers to attend other public schools.

  17. No, no, Melinda, your “almost” does not do the situation justice.
    As per Christopher Hutchins: “Religion spoils everything.”
    Just about every rationale offered by the GOP, for any of their programs, is very well designed BS!

  18. It is infuriating to many of us progressive Lutherans and Catholics to see how some of the fundamentalists within our “faith brandings” are misusing public tax dollars to do religious evangelism, in direct opposition to the US Constitution’s clear mandates. A minority within both faith groups are doing this, and the majority stand against it. But we can’t stop them thru disorganized church structures. It has to be done legislatively. Another reason to go blue in November.

  19. Whatever else religion may be, it is, first of all, a business with accountants, income, and disbursements, not the least of which is payment to its preachers. They have to sell the congregation on their value. Also, the maintenance of their structures and sometimes payments to school teachers and administrators.

    As education and government are two of the seven mountains in the mandate they must conquer, preachers have worked on this for decades and have certainly made inroads in the Red Party enough so the party has selected religion for reciprocal favoritism. You deliver voters, and we will deliver income.

    A marriage made in heaven, or sidestepping the Constitution?

    I believe in the latter.

  20. As you are probably aware, I’ve been supportive of charter schools in Indianapolis. They have given parents the option of choosing a different school that better aligns with a child’s learning style and focus (performing arts, STEM, technology, etc.) It gave parents of kids in failing schools an option as well – when the only other option was a moving van. They did force change on IPS to offer competing programs as well with some remarkable results. I saw it happen in my own neighborhood.

    That said, there are downsides to charters particularly where the ulterior motive is either profit, religious indoctrination, or both. Charters did seem to open the door to that. In addition, Charters find a way to avoid special needs children – although they can’t legally do that.

    In the past, attending a Catholic school often correlated with a very good education – religious indoctrination aside. Some of the reasons for that may include things that aren’t directly attributable to teaching methods – such as parents being more involved (since they are paying) and the ability of the school to eject disciplinary problems, poor performers or special needs students. In fact, several of the commenters on this website went to religious schools. I think it’s disingenuous that some commenters – and possibly Sheila – would not acknowledge that they had a significantly better private education environment than many of the public schools, particularly ones that were failing.

    Again, I’m not in favor of vouchers at all. I think all schools that take public money should be accountable. I also feel the same way about home schooling. If you want to teach creationism, religious doctrine, etc. then do it on your own dime.

  21. Abraham Lincoln probably said it best: “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

    “They” get it; as usual, we don’t – too busy with identity/ideology…..

  22. Not all Lutherans are pro-voucherites. The Wisconsin Synod Sheila notes today is a notoriously right wing synod as is the Missouri Synod within Lutheranism. The ELCA is the moderate synod and I once was a member of that synod.

    As I have suggested before, those who wish to have a church-state union are only thinking in one way fashion, i.e., the potential takeover of the state by religion, ignoring the fact that the admixture of the two also allows the state an opportunity to take over religion, either and both of which are contrary to the Founders’ intent as expressed in our Constitution. If religious schools pay their own way with curricula determined by the state such as civic education and throw in such effort some prayer, fine; but not with public funds – a constitutional no-no.

    We have already determined that books and school buses at public expense for religious schools do not violate the Constitution, but I think the Indiana Supreme Court’s dodge of giving public funds to parents for choosing the schools of students for the latters’ education does not fit the same logic, though I’m sure that racists and a majority of priests and preachers would disagree.

  23. Public education isn’t important merely because it serves the public, it is important because it creates the public.

  24. Article VII, Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution states in part that “No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution.”

    But right-wingers pushed through a voucher system designed to get around the Constitution and divert public money to religious schools.

    Good news! Just last Friday a judge ruled that the voucher system is unconstitutional.


  25. Maybe it’s not the people who need education in civics. It’s more likely that our respective legislatures need it much more.

  26. Peggy,

    I think they are VERY educated about “civics” – in this case, all the non-existent guardrails, light oversight and vague language that allow them to destroy our democracy.

  27. Peggy, I do not think those on the legislatures, or tooooo many of them, give a darn about civics, period!

  28. Private and charter schools also discriminate against students who do not speak English, who can’t pay extra fees of all sorts, who don’t have their own transportation, whose parents are not available for what’s essentially required volunteerism, and students who don’t test well on admissions tests. In voucher schools, the schools can also discriminate against children whose families are not church members and those not of their faith. The last time I looked, all of the charter or voucher schools had a lower enrollment of black and Hispanic students than nearby public schools.

    In response to a previous commenter, public schools DO NOT USE VOUCHERS because they do not charge tuition. By definition, public schools must be tuition free by law. In contrast, private schools receiving voucher students can and do charge whatever additional tuition they desire – a form of wealth discrimination.

    Private, voucher schools are full of those who already paid tuition, so there is little to no room left for the poor students vouchers were SUPPOSED to help. Notably, pro-voucher legislators REFUSED to include language in the original and subsequent voucher legislation requiring that voucher schools limit vouchers to either poor or failing students. Voucher schools are also very vocal opponents of such language. Rhetoric about helping poor, failing students escape public schools was always a scam so that so-called fiscal conservatives could provide tax assistance to families who were already paying tuition to such schools. Those families included the legislators whose own children were in parochial schools. So much for fiscal conservatism.

  29. I consider myself a very lucky person. I went to a religious school for high school. There I learned many unexpected things, many of which finally become clearer and more important to me as I age: the importance of kindness; devotion to the value of education; love of learning for its own sake; appreciation of beauty – inner more than outer; attention to the well being of ones community and neighbours; the value of thinking…the list is really infinite and I hope defined my character for the better. This school, the ‘farm’ school of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, was started in 1799. Always a religious institution, a Quaker one, entrance there was into a magical land of high values and high expectations, with the support to achieve what felt like unreachable heights. Did I pay attention and perform up to my best? Nah, I was the worst of a confused, often irreverent and nasty teenager. But, lots of the positive stuck despite my lack of cooperation.

    I appreciate religion when it moves toward values that better our world. I do not particularly follow a faith tradition – nor did that school press any such thing on its students. It did press, relentlessly, the need and responsibility for people to become citizens, to recognize the value – the ineffible, the divine, in every person. Not particularly easy, but completely worthwhile.

    I have run on about this partly to highlight the positives that can arise from a religiously supported education – which I do not doubt every one of us knows. What we do not talk about is the deep damage these foolish zealots do to their so-called faiths. Seeing the power of faith as power over, control, exclusionary opportunities, terrible nastiness, relegates religion to the dark corners of cults and punishment – another, sure, way to keep the downtrodden down. This ownership approach denegrates religion to a laughing stock. Deep distrust is the only sensible, safe way to deal with today’s questions: vouchers, misappropriated taxes – these folks are showing us who they are, believe them.

    Apparently none of the ‘faithful’ trust in the goodness of their beliefs and the possibilities for them supporting the flourishing of our world. The gift the Founders gave to religion was rebuffed and those who needed it the most refused to learn anything at all, and gleefully passed that void on to their off spring. Among other twists, I have long thought that many adults today do not particularly like children – maybe it is selfishness, or jealousy…who can know? What we can observe, however, is how grudgingly genuine benefits are offered, unencumbered, to our youth.

    Many of you note that you are glad to be old. I can understand, though I try to be glad that I am able to be older and older, and one hopes, older yet!

    Best wishes!

  30. Sadly, it is just one more way our democracy is being eroded.

    I am annoyed and offended that NVL attributes her (?) attributes her religious high school education for teaching “many unexpected things, many of which finally become clearer and more important to me as I age: the importance of kindness; devotion to the value of education; love of learning for its own sake; appreciation of beauty – inner more than outer; attention to the well being of ones community and neighbours; the value of thinking…the list is really infinite and I hope defined my character for the better,” as if these are NOT taught in public schools! I assure you that they are.

    Margaret Mead said children should be taught how to think, not what to think. I believe public schools are way ahead of religious schools on that alone. If I had my way, churches would be taxed and that money channeled into our educational system. Religious and private schools would receive no public funding.
    In New Hampshire, schools are supported by real estate taxes. You guessed it, wealthy towns have more money for schools and poor towns has less. Another way to discriminate.

  31. I, on the other hand, found NVL’s tale of the spiritual things she/he learned at a Quaker high school very inspiring. I did not learn any of them at my public schools. In fact, I didn’t start learning them until I became involved with the First Friends Church in Richmond, IN; an experience that still guides me 30 years later.

    Jesus said; “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” An admonition that is conspicuously ignored by the Christian Nationalists and others of th MAGA persuasion.

  32. As a life long Lutheran, I want to emphasize that the Lutheran schools mentioned are controlled by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, a fundamentalist form of religion that bears no likeness to the major Lutheran denomination in our country, the ELCA, which teaches inclusion, ordains women and LGBTQ pastors, welcomes all to our Communion table, has organizations to care for migrants, feed the hungry, help the homeless. Please, Sheila, don’t lump all Lutherans together the way mainstream media lumps all Christians together. Some of us actually do follow Christ’s teachings.

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