A recently published investigation shows the folly of school voucher programs.
It’s unconscionable that one-fifth of all states today have made most or all children, regardless of family income, eligible to receive vouchers to attend private, mostly religious schools. The 10 states are Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah and West Virginia, with some other states offering more limited subsidies regardless of income. However, FFRF Action Fund is currently tracking 164 bills across the country that will either expand or create voucher programs. And, unfortunately, this number is expected to rise.
Vouchers — stipends paid by taxpayers to parents for their children to attend private schools — were originally floated as a way to help children in poor families have “school choice.” The assumption behind those early programs, which was that private schools would improve educational outcomes for low-income children, largely has been shown to be false.
The rationale that vouchers were really about helping poor children was anyway a subterfuge, as a recent ProPublica article shows. ProPublica reports: “The expansion has been spurred by growing Republican dominance in many state capitals, U.S. Supreme Court rulings loosening restrictions on taxpayer funding for religious schools, and parental frustration with progressive curricula and with public school closures during the coronavirus pandemic.”
In Arizona, which was the first state to allow any family to receive public funding for private schools (or homeschooling), the majority of families applying for the funds (about $7,000 per student) were not even recently enrolled in public school. In Ohio, more than half of students in 2022 choosing EdChoice were already attending private schools. Likewise, in Florida, only 13 percent of the 123,000 students added to the state’s expanded school-choice program in 2022 had switched from public schools. Students who were already enrolled in private schools, who were paying for it themselves, or who were utilizing school-based scholarships, now get to rely on public handouts. This serves to direct public money to those who already have the means, as well as to enrich religious schools.
Vouchers, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation has long warned, are an exploitation of public funds by private, mostly religious schools that are draining the coffers of public schools. The ProPublica article confirms FFRF’s concerns, demonstrating that religious schools are exploiting these programs to pad their coffers at taxpayer expense. Some voucher schools, like St. Brendan’s the Navigator in Hilliard, Ohio, are effectively threatening to withhold supplemental aid if the families do not seek public funds first. The principal at Holy Family School in Poland, Ohio, admitted to forcing families to apply for public funds. Perhaps not being able to sense the irony, the principal at noted that they have not yet raised tuition because they “didn’t want to take advantage of the situation.” That hasn’t always been the case in schools across the country, however.
The FFRF Action Fund has called out religious schools in Iowa that are exploiting their state’s universal voucher program by raising school tuition. To cash in on Iowa’s costly new universal voucher law, St. Francis Catholic Schools in Marshalltown, for instance, is planning to raise tuition incrementally over the next three years, capping out at roughly $7,500, just as the Education Savings Accounts funds become available to everyone to the tune of $7,600. This is a shameless and rapacious money grab to force all citizens to pay the max for religious education.
With religious schools unabashedly doing all that they can to exploit these programs, public funds are being depleted to pay for the religious education of students who largely were already enrolled at these schools.
“The ProPublica investigation shines light on just how greedy these religious schools are,” says FFRF Action Fund President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “But it also shows how eager pro-voucher lawmakers are to destroy our public educational system.”
The FFRF Action Fund is the legislative arm of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has over 40,000 members nationwide and works to keep religion out of government and to educate about nontheism.