Creative Tactics to Give Public Funds to Religious Schools

Wednesday, April 09, 2014
(photos: AP/Getty)

Legal battles over taxpayer support for religious schools are taking place in both red and blue states where the separation between church and state has grown too narrow for opponents.


In Hawaii, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the state over the Preschool Open Doors program, which was created to help poor families afford preschool education for their children.


The ACLU praised the program, calling it “commendable” and noting that “children who attend preschool are more likely to succeed, both academically and socially: they are more likely graduate high school and attend college, and they are less likely to be homeless, commit crimes, or abuse drugs.”


However, the group says tax dollars for the program are being used to send kids to private parochial schools, and with no oversight.


The program is unconstitutional, said the ACLU in its lawsuit, because it “places no limits on how a religious institution may spend the public funds it receives; as such, the state directly funnels public funds to religious institutions that embrace non-secular teaching and instruction for preschool children.”


A similar legal fight is underway in Georgia, where a state tax credit program results in public money going into scholarships so children can attend religious schools.


Four residents filed a lawsuit saying the program “drains much-needed funds away from Georgia’s public schools,” which are underfunded as it is, lead plaintiff Raymond Gaddy says.


The program provides dollar-for-dollar tax credits for any person or business that donates money to student scholarship organizations, such as the Georgia SSO, which support students attending parochial schools. This means the state matches the contributions with taxpayer money, representing an indirect scheme to fund Christian educational programs.


Between 2008 and 2013, the state of Georgia redirected $226.9 million in tax revenue to private schools—many of which are religiously affiliated—yet was $5 billion short in the basic funding of public schools, according to the lawsuit.


Politico reported that 14 states currently provide school vouchers for parents to send their children to private institutions, at a cumulative cost of $1 billion each year.


Among the concerns cited by critics is that the voucher programs allow students to receive Bible-based education that rejects common science teachings. Twenty-six states are currently considering expanding their voucher programs or enacting new ones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. One of the biggest voucher program supports is the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, which last year promoted subsidies for private schools in 10 states.


Politico’s Stephanie Simon found that “many of these faith-based schools go beyond teaching the biblical story of the six days of creation as literal fact. Their course materials nurture disdain of the secular world, distrust of momentous discoveries and hostility toward mainstream scientists. They often distort basic facts about the scientific method — teaching, for instance, that theories such as evolution are by definition highly speculative because they haven’t been elevated to the status of ‘scientific law.’”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Public Dollars for Religious Pre-Schools (by Purna Nemani, Courthouse News Service)

ACLU Claims Hawaii Preschool Aid Unconstitutional (Associated Press)

Georgia Funnels Money to Religious Schools (by Julia Filip, Courthouse News Service)

Special Report: Taxpayers Fund Creationism in the Classroom (by Stephanie Simon, Politico)

Indiana Supreme Court Rules Tax Money Can be Used to Support Religious Schools; Voucher System Proceeds (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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