Religious education is not a government responsibility

 

Writing about a recent pro-voucher rally at a Catholic High School in San Antonio, a pro-voucher blogger concluded, “Anti-Catholic bigotry must not stand in the way of quality education for all Texas students.”

I am not sure where the blogger came up with the half-baked idea that the opposition to vouchers from TSTA and virtually the entire public education community is driven by anti-Catholicism. It isn’t. She was as wrong about that conclusion as she and other members of the pro-voucher crowd are about suggesting that vouchers are the only way to provide quality education for Texas school children, particularly kids from low-income families.

The writer preferred the terms “school choice” or education savings accounts, but whatever you want to call them, vouchers are vouchers.

TSTA and other educators oppose them because they would take tax money from under-funded public schools and give it to a relative handful of parents to spend on private school tuition or home schooling expenses.

The Texas Constitution says nothing about vouchers or private schools, but it does specifically prohibit the expenditure of state funds for religious institutions. Article I, Section 7 of the constitution states: “No money shall be appropriated, or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes.”

The constitution requires the Legislature to adequately and fairly pay for a system of free public schools. TSTA believes vouchers would undermine that responsibility because the vast majority of Texas kids will continue to be educated in public schools, while private schools would use tax dollars to cherry-pick a select few students.

We don’t want any private schools – religious or non-religious – receiving tax dollars. That includes Catholic schools, Baptist schools, Jewish schools, Muslim schools, atheist schools and all other private schools dedicated to whatever religion or life-altering experience someone may care to practice.

Many ministers and other religious leaders throughout Texas oppose vouchers because they value their local public schools and don’t want the acceptance of state funds to lead to government regulations. One of the education community’s biggest allies in the anti-voucher fight is Pastors for Texas Children, a group of ministers representing a number of different denominations that don’t want to see tax dollars drained from their neighborhood public schools.

Some Catholic leaders, however, want vouchers. One advocate is Brother Stanley Culotta, president of Holy Cross High School, where the pro-voucher rally was held in San Antonio. The blogger described him as an “ardent warrior for school choice” who is concerned about the future of Catholic education. Without vouchers, he fears that only wealthy children will be able to attend private schools.

Churches already receive significant tax breaks on their property. So, in a sense, they already are being subsidized by taxpayers. But the future of religious education is not the responsibility of Texas taxpayers at large. It is the responsibility of religious congregations, their benefactors and families whose children attend religious schools.

If the legislative majority in Austin would fulfill its responsibility to adequately pay for public schools and quit messing around with vouchers and other privatization schemes, Culotta and the parents whose children attend his school also could begin to regain some confidence in their local public schools.

 

 

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