The Freedom From Religion Foundation is sounding the alarm about a reckless and growing campaign across the nation — including legislative moves in 11 states, two of which passed — to defund public schools and funnel that tax money to schools. religious schools.
Iowa made national headlines last month when it rushed through a voucher bill that would eventually allow all families, regardless of income, to take advantage of public funds to send children to private schools. The law, which is expected to cost taxpayers about $345 million a year once it is fully implemented, has been Gov. Kim Reynolds’ pet project since her election victory.
It took Utah lawmakers just eight days to rush the state’s largest bond program through their legislature, also in January. The program, which will cost taxpayers $42 million, was rushed through the legislature and was approved by at least two-thirds of each house. (Although a similar law passed in 2007 was overwhelmingly revoked in a Utah voter referendum, unfortunately if a bill passes with two-thirds of the body in both the House and Senate, state voters cannot issue a call.) .
Several other states across the country have proposed similar legislation. For example, lawmakers on a Kansas committee passed a bill this week that is eerily similar to the Iowa law that would make public funds available to all Kansas alumni starting in 2026. In the end, about $5,000 per student could be used for private or home schools, including unregulated and unaccredited schools. It would also fund a separate shadow board for education. Yet another Kansas bill would expand tax credits by allowing taxpayers to cancel up to $500,000 in scholarships provided to private schools.
Other damaging pro-voucher bills that have been proposed for the 2023 legislative session include:
Texas House Bill 619: This bill would create a voucher system to qualify students to attend non-public schools. The measure has been roundly criticized by public school advocates and even rural lawmakers who see their already meager funds being further depleted.
South Dakota House Bill 1234: Under this bill, like the law in Iowa and legislation in Kansas, every student in the South Dakota school system would be eligible to receive a voucher beginning in 2025.
New Hampshire House Bill 464 and House Bill 367: Bill 367 would expand eligibility requirements, and Bill 464 would eventually allow all New Hampshire school students to receive public funds to attend private schools, regardless of income. Bill 464 exited its first committee last week and is headed for a vote in the House.
Florida House Bill 1/Senate Bill 202: This high priority bill in Florida expands who is eligible to receive vouchers. If this bill passes, any student who is a Florida resident and eligible to enroll in kindergarten through twelfth grade in a public school would be eligible to receive these funds. The program now costs less than $1.5 billion a year. If the bill passes, the taxpayer subsidy would increase to about $4 billion.
Idaho, Nebraska, Virginia and South Carolina round out the other states that have proposed at least one school voucher program already during the new legislative session. All have commonalities in embezzling millions of taxpayer dollars to fund private education, most of which is religiously segregated.
“School voucher programs violate the principle of separation of church and state enshrined in our Constitution,” said FFRF Co-Chair Annie Laurie Gaylor. “By using public funds to support religious education, these programs harm both public schools that lose resources and children who are publicly indoctrinated with specific religious beliefs in religious schools without public oversight.”
A recent NPR piece highlighting voucher programs pointed out that advocates who often advertise “school choice” are often misled. Arizona has long prided itself on being a leader in “school choice.” However, of the 35,000 vouchers that have been requested in Arizona’s program, 80 percent of those vouchers have gone to recipients who never attended public schools in the first place. The notion that vouchers open up options for students is fundamentally flawed; all it does is provide taxpayer dollars to private, often religious, schools.
FFRF also notes that school voucher programs have been shown to have little or no impact on students’ academic achievement. Students who use vouchers to transfer from a public school to a private school do not benefit academically. Studies repeatedly show no evidence that voucher students’ academics are better than public school students. This is despite the fact that voucher schemes directly fund public schools, which nonetheless perform better.
Our elected officials must prioritize our public schools and ensure that every child receives a quality education, regardless of their background or religion. FFRF urges policy makers to reject school voucher programs and instead invest in our public education system, which serves the common good and respects the diversity of our communities.