Americans United has criticized the Bush administration for issuing a report calling for massive new forms of tax funding for inner-city religious schools.
The 164-page report, “Preserving a Critical National Asset: America’s Disadvantaged Students and the Crisis in Faith-based Urban Schools,” was produced by the White House Domestic Policy Council. It calls for a sweeping plan of public subsidy of religious education through vouchers, tax credits and other forms of tax aid at both the federal and state levels.
“Government officials should focus on improving public schools, not subsidizing religious education,” said AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. “The American people want programs that boost public schools, not a bailout for private schools that are unaccountable to the public.”
The report calls for a variety of voucher plans, failing to note that there is little public support for them; it also ignores objective research showing that existing voucher plans do not boost student performance.
In a blog post written for The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C., Americans United pointed out that the research on vouchers has not been favorable.
“Milwaukee has had a voucher plan in place for more than 15 years,” the blog post observed. “The most recent study of it, considered the most comprehensive to date, found voucher students doing no better academically than their peers in public schools. Studies of the voucher plans in Washington, D.C., and Cleveland got the same results.”
Despite data like this, the White House report calls for an array of new public funding for religious schools. Going beyond vouchers, it recommends the creation of “faith-based” charter schools that would advance religion.
The report offhandedly notes that such schools “would likely require a number of changes in Federal and State law” but fails to point out that erasing the First Amendment’s church-state separation provision would be among them.
“This report is the last gasp of an administration stubbornly convinced there is a ‘faith-based’ solution to every problem,” Lynn remarked. “Given the state the Bush administration is in, I expect the report to be quickly forgotten – and that’s for the best.”
Lynn pointed out that 90 percent of American schoolchildren attend public schools. He said the next administration should stop obsessing over private education and return the focus to public education.