November 5, 2023

Anne Lutz Fernandez: School Choice is Becoming Involuntary Tithing

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Anne Lutz Fernandez took a look at the growing number of voucher programs, and their close ties to religious institutions.

It may surprise some to learn that 75% of American private school students attend religious schools, with over a third at Catholic schools. A 2017 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research highlighted that “[r]eligious schools not only dominate private education, but also appear to dominate the market for voucher-accepting schools.” As a result, one of the biggest beneficiaries of this redirection of tax dollars is the Catholic Church.

In their study of Milwaukee’s voucher program, NBER found that churches running schools accepting vouchers were funded in good part by those vouchers and that the program had staved off parish closings. With both Catholic and Protestant churches in decline in the US — and some dioceses still in financial trouble as a result of abuse settlements — these programs put taxpayers in the position of helping prop them up.

Now news comes from Iowa that highlights what religious institutions gain from the rapid expansion of private-school choice programs. Within months of the passage of a new ESA program, Catholic schools in the state are hiking up tuition to get more public funding, as the Iowa Capital-Dispatch reported:

Several Iowa private schools announced their plans to raise tuition after the program was signed into law. Holy Family Catholic School in Dubuque raised tuition to be able to receive more of the available government money, with no increased cost to the families using ESA funds. Tuition for Wahlert Catholic High School students is $6,590 for the current school year — in 2023-2024, high school tuition will grow to $7,400. Students who aren’t Catholic will have a tuition of $8,600, and Catholic students whose parishes do not support Holy Family will pay $7,825 in tuition annually — both cases where an ESA would not cover the full cost of attendance.

The separation of church and state in schools is under attack within traditional public schools as well. Texas just passed a bill to allow public schools to hire chaplains as uncertified staff alongside school counselors, an act that would have been unthinkable before we had a Supreme Court determined to redefine religious freedom as the freedom of religious groups to preach on the taxpayers’ dime. Fighting for the separation of church and state in public institutions is hard work enough — there, citizens can vote out state and local officials who want to blur those lines and they have a voice as parents and residents via public boards of education.

Read her full post here. 

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