As 2021 began, 14 states were considering school voucher programs. The state where I was born and raised recently passed one of the broadest school voucher programs, giving public funds to anyone wanting to withdraw their children from public school — regardless of income level — or to anyone with rising kindergarten children who have never intended to enroll in public school at all.
I’ve run the full gamut of education choices. I grew up attending public schools, then I attended a small private college. I have taught in private schools and in public schools, and I spent some time homeschooling my children. My own children have, at various times, attended private school, homeschool, and public school. So we’ve done it all.
Though I’m a big fan of choice and believe families should be free to make the choice that is best for each child, I don’t love the idea of taking funding from public schools to pay for voucher programs. I don’t think that’s a very loving thing to do.
I get it – some people say that helping low income families have the same choice for private school that upperclass families have is a way to love our neighbors. I can see that perspective, but my experiences within the public school system lead me to disagree. Strongly. Maybe private grants and scholarships can fund those programs, but public funds shouldn’t be diverted away from public schools to fund private education.
When we take funds away from public schools, we’re taking funding away from educating our poorest children with the least parental involvement. Essentially, we’re taking money away from the children who most need it — the children whose parents can’t or won’t research private schools and can’t pay the thousands of dollars difference between the public school voucher and the private school tuition.
When we use public funds to pay for voucher programs, we’re taking funding away from special needs children who cannot be accommodated by most private schools. These are the most vulnerable of students who desperately need well-funded schools to help them achieve all they are capable of. Most private schools aren’t equipped to educate these children.
When we use public funds to pay for voucher programs, we’re taking funding away from the LGBTQ children or children from LGBTQ families who are most likely to be turned away from private religious schools, which make up the majority of private schools in many locations.
Private schools get to choose which children to accept and which children to turn away. And when we send public money to those schools, we’re enabling that discrimination and selectivity — to the detriment of the children pushed to the margins.
Because I follow Jesus, I’m compelled to love my neighbor as I love myself. Jesus told us that, alongside loving God, this is the greatest thing we can do. And when I love my neighbor, I want the same sorts of things for my neighbor’s children that I want for my own. This means, I can’t take the money and run with my own kids, leaving behind my neighbor’s children to suffer in underfunded schools.
Many public schools are already not well-funded and, because schools are funded by property taxes, there is already grave inequality in public school funding around the country.
Teachers are working above and beyond regular school hours while making about 20 percent less than similar professions. Additionally, around 94 percent of teachers pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets. Public schools with predominantly low-income families already have larger class sizes and have fewer elective subjects and fewer services like school counseling and after-school programs.
With school voucher programs, the poorest, the most neglected, the most trauma-filled kids — what the Bible would call “the least of these” — could be left behind in underfunded schools with a serious lack of resources.
Yes, my children attend public school and I teach in a public school — I realize that means I’m not unbiased. I do like a paycheck. But it isn’t all about a paycheck for me. We are where we are because I think this is what’s best for us and best for our community. This is where we best love others.
At a different point in our lives, I obviously made different choices that I believed were best at that time. And yes, school vouchers would have greatly helped my family when my kids were younger and we were paying for private school or for homeschool supplies.
But the bottom line is — because I love Jesus and because I love my neighbors, the school choice conversation isn’t about me. It isn’t about my kids. It’s about loving my neighbors. It’s about the most vulnerable children in our communities.
It’s about the children most impacted by abuse and neglect and poverty and trauma. Pulling tax dollars away from public schools impacts those children the most. Pulling tax dollars away from public schools does real harm to those children. Pulling tax dollars away from public schools costs them an education today, but it also reduces their chances of graduating, reduces their chances of pursuing post-secondary education or training, and maintains a lifelong wealth gap that will continue to affect these children and their future children.
I’m a Christian, a follower of Jesus, and my faith and my desire to love my neighbor compel me to oppose school vouchers.