On Public Funding for Religious Education

On Public Funding for Religious Education

I am an agnostic and reject most organized religion as corrupt and in many aspects socially counterproductive because of its divisive tendencies but as a former high school teacher and a college professor, a civic activist and strategic planner, I firmly believe that education is one of the highest duties of governments, not just because it benefits our young but because an educated citizenry benefits all of society.  I also firmly believe that educational policy must be focused on the students rather than on any other constituency, including teachers and administrators, although I believe teachers are very underappreciated and should be fairly compensated in all settings.

Decades ago as a political consultant to Libertarian Party candidates (I provided my services on a non-partisan basis) I proposed an all voucher plan for public education where parents would all receive a per child allowance to be used at the public or private school of their choice, so long as rigorous educational and fiscal standards were met by the institution to which the voucher funds were entrusted, and that the education provided included counseling, physical and cultural aspects so that students received the support they needed to attain their highest capacities.  The vouchers would be the primary source of educational funding although I envisioned the possibility of additional government support, but always on an equal per student basis.  My view was based on the perspective that it was incongruous and unfair that all citizens, regardless of their views on religion, are required to pay taxes used for public education but that only those who agreed not to access religious or private education could enjoy the benefits of such taxation.

Assurance of quality education premised on parental election of the institution selected would require effective monitoring preventing educational institutions that did not meet established standards from participating in the voucher system, something I acknowledge would require a cumbersome and expensive bureaucracy.  I also acknowledge that government operated schools would likely be devastated by such freedom of choice, although it would be the worst performing public schools that would probably be hardest hit.  Still, as in child custody cases, the best decision is the one that best meets student needs, cultural and physical as well as academic.  I envisioned that my proposed voucher system should evolve into one providing a variety of choices, not only including secular and religious education but military education, or single sex education, or education stressing specific disciplines such as science or art, and that seemed positive to me.  It still does.  My own education was primarily military with a bit of Catholic and public schooling intermixed, and I am neither militarist (I am an anti-war activist) nor religious.

Prejudice against religious education is just that.  Prejudice.  And it ought not to exist. Public policies that discriminate against funding of a student’s education because of religious considerations while requiring parents to pay education related taxes, notwithstanding my doubts about organized religion, is what violates the Constitution, not the converse.  So, while a universal voucher system such as I once proposed that might in the long run provide the best solutions has many kinks that would need to be ironed out before it became the most viable student-centric alternative and requires very careful consideration before it were implemented, I believe that antireligious public policies should be eliminated now.


© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved

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