Public schools play a critical role in communities across the country. Their open doors bring diverse communities of students together in one place – a place where no student is turned away because of who they are, what they believe, or how they learn. But when taxpayer dollars are diverted to private religious schools, this promise of a quality education to every student is compromised.
Voucher programs and similar schemes have long been used to divert taxpayer dollars away from public schools and into private ones. And, during the coronavirus pandemic, proponents of privatized education have used a variety of strategies to make COVID-19 relief funding available to religious schools and virtual learning programs, setting a dangerous precedent that could have devastating consequences for public schools and the students they serve.
Our democratic values are most at risk in times of crisis. As students and their families reach their limits, Interfaith Alliance joined the National Coalition of Public Education to call on the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to prioritize public money for public schools and oppose any attempts to create or expand private school voucher programs.
Voucher programs hurt public schools as well as religious schools.
Public dollars should never be used to fund religious education. But private school vouchers transfer taxpayer dollars from public schools – open to all, regardless of faith – to private schools, the majority of which are religious. These schools can use these taxpayer dollars to fund religious instruction, contrary to the basic principles of separation of church and state.
At the same time, accepting public funds opens religious institutions to government oversight and interference. While voucher programs may yield a short-term benefit, using government funds for religious purposes will weaken the constitutional boundary that protects both religion and government.
Education funding should prioritize students of all faiths, identities, and abilities.
Public schools serve students of all backgrounds and experiences and strive to create environments where no student feels unwelcome because of who they are, what they believe, or how they learn. But private schools are not held to the same standard. Even private schools with nondiscrimination policies may turn away students on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, academic abilities, disciplinary history, disability, or ability to pay tuition.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought existing educational inequities into sharp relief. The pandemic continues to disproportionately affect historically marginalized communities, particularly students of color. In responding to this crisis, Congress must ensure that students of all backgrounds and abilities have the support they need to meet the challenges ahead.
Congress must keep public dollars in public schools – now and for the future.
Ensuring that every child receives a quality education is a top priority across the country. To ensure each child is afforded this opportunity, Congress must prioritize schools that serve students of all faiths, backgrounds, and abilities. We urge our leaders to embrace policies that strengthen our public schools and oppose attempts to redirect public dollars towards private institutions.
The National Coalition for Public Education is comprised of more than 50 education, civic, civil rights, and religious organizations devoted to the support of public schools.
Learn more about our work to advance true religious freedom in education.