NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Religious Schools Already Get Public Funds

December 18, 1997

Opponents of school choice often challenge choice plans on the grounds that channeling public money to private, religious schools violates the doctrine of separation of church and state. But public funds are already flowing to such institutions -- with government approval.

  • In at least seven states, public schools have formal programs to send "at-risk" youth or special education children to private schools, reports Michigan's Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
  • Although school choice plans in Wisconsin, Ohio, Maine and Vermont have been challenged on grounds they violate the prohibition of establishment of religion, the Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that the Constitution doesn't bar a school district from paying the costs of a sign-language interpreter for a deaf student in a religious school.

Voucher critics also allege that private schools "cream" the best students from public schools. But proponents of school choice point out that such a charge is at odds with the facts.

  • More than 3,000 private special education schools operate across the country.
  • Some 2,000 private facilities house 35,000 juveniles under court care.
  • Half of all children who suffer from traumatic brain injuries are placed in private care.
  • The Catholic Church alone has 195 schools dedicated to children with disabilities -- and they get public funds.

Federal rules for funding programs for disadvantaged and disabled students have been in place for more than two decades. In these instances, the U.S. Department of Education says that public funds must be provided so that private schools can offer as good an education as public schools.

Source: Matthew Robinson, "School Choice -- Legal or Not?" Investor's Business Daily, December 18, 1997.


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