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, often religious schools, this promise of a quality education to every student is compromised.
From the start, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration worked to privatize education. They relentlessly pursued this agenda through varied and creative means, taking every opportunity to redirect public dollars to private schools. Even in the midst of a national health crisis, Secretary DeVos attempted to use invaluable aid for public schools to fund private school programs.
There is much work to be done to repair the damage done over the past four years. The Biden-Harris administration must rescind the harmful guidance, policies, and grant priorities that divert public funding away from public schools.
In preparation, Interfaith Alliance joined with the National Coalition of Public Education in calling on the incoming Biden-Harris administration to prioritize public money for public schools. To protect religious freedom for all Americans, Interfaith Alliance approaches this issue with the knowledge that education funding is a matter of religious freedom.
Education funding should benefit students of all faiths, identities, and abilities.
Public schools are accessible to students of all backgrounds and experiences. No student is made to feel unsafe or unwelcome because of who they are, what they believe, or how they learn. But private schools are not held to the same standard. While public schools accept all students, private schools are allowed to pick and choose which students they admit. While some private schools have nondiscrimination policies, others turn away students on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, academic abilities, disciplinary history, disability, or ability to pay tuition. Public funds should support services that are open to all – not only the select few who meet a private school’s criteria.
Private school vouchers hurt public schools as well as private, religious schools.
Under the basic principles of separation of church and state, taxpayer dollars should not be used for religious purposes. But voucher programs, including tax credit programs and federal grants, allow private religious schools to use taxpayer funds for religious education. Violating the fundamental principle of religious freedom by allowing private schools to accept public funds is harmful to both public and private schools. Accepting public funds opens private religious schools to government control and interference. This comes at the expense of public schools, diverting much-needed resources to serve the few to the detriment of the majority of our nation’s students.
Keeping public money in public schools should be a priority – now and for the future.
Reversing the Trump administration’s harmful policies is only the first step in restoring support for public schools. The new administration should consider ways to better serve students of all backgrounds and abilities, ensuring that all have access to a quality education. The President-elect must embrace policies which ensure that public schools receive public funds and private schools remain free from government funding and influence.
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 at the federal, state and local level.