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My Turn: Religious schools shouldn’t get public money

Starting in September, New Hampshire’s new voucher program will provide scholarships worth an average of $2,500 per year to students going to private and religious schools and up to $625 for home-schooling costs. Businesses would have the option of funding these scholarships in lieu of paying their state taxes. The state would offset that lost tax revenue by reducing state funding to school districts.

The program starts small but grows quickly. In the first 10 years, the state could spend as much as $130 million moving our children into private, religious and home schools. At that point, we would be spending $30 million per year to send 13,000 students to private schools. And former House speaker Bill O’Brien says he wants to expand the program even faster.

This is a “voucher” program because, like all voucher programs, it funds private school tuitions from the state budget. But unlike others, its key feature is that it has no accountability to the taxpayers.

We have a charter school program in New Hampshire that is successful because it is accountable. The state Board of Education oversees the approval and renewal of each school’s charter in great detail. Supported by the Department of Education, the board ensures, among other things, that each charter school’s mission is relevant to community needs and that the curriculum meets acceptable standards.

But the sponsors of New Hampshire’s voucher law have shielded their program from any form of accountability for educational results.

This is a particular problem if religious schools participate in the voucher program. Religious schools play an important role in private education but should not be supported by New Hampshire taxpayers.

The constitutionality of the voucher program is being challenged in court on that and other grounds. But regardless, it is bad state policy to spend state money without the kind of oversight we have of charter schools.

In fact, as in other states’ programs, most schools participating in the New Hampshire voucher program would probably be religious schools, if only because their tuitions are low and a $2,500 voucher will go a lot further.

And religion is central to the missions of many of these schools, as described in their literature. For instance:

At Cornerstone Christian Academy, a K–8 school in Epsom, the “purpose” of the school is “to be an extension of the Christian home and church . . . and thus to provide a continuity of training for Christian young people.”

Dublin Christian Academy promulgates a “Statement of Faith” that professes that “the Genesis account of creation is to be accepted literally and not allegorically or figuratively”; that “all animal and plant life were made directly by God in six literal, twenty-four hour periods”; and that “any form of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery, and pornography are sinful perversions of God’s gift of sex.” This Statement of Faith also condemns all forms of abortion, including for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Most New Hampshire religious schools require students to participate in religious activities such as Bible classes, worship services and classroom prayer that integrate religious instruction into the curriculum.

At Salem Christian School, “all grades incorporate Biblical principles in all subjects and also have regular Bible study classes” every day of the week except for Wednesday, which is when the weekly “chapel service” is held.

The Infant Jesus School, a Catholic elementary school in Nashua, requires all students, “regardless of (their) religious affiliation,” to “participate in all liturgies, classroom prayer, and other aspects of the spiritual life of the school. The teaching of Religion is a content subject in which all students must participate.”

The Bethlehem Christian School and others use the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. Among many other Christian tenets, the ACE curriculum teaches that: humans and dinosaurs co-existed, evolution has been disproved, a Japanese whaling boat found a dinosaur, and science proves homosexuality is a learned behavior.

These schools are an important resource to families who share their beliefs.

However, with no public oversight of their missions and curricula, they should not receive tuition payments funded by New Hampshire taxpayers.

Gov. Maggie Hassan supports repeal of the voucher program. The House will soon vote on HB 370 to repeal the voucher program. Legislators should support HB 370 to repeal the voucher program.

(Bill Duncan of New Castle is the founder of Defending New Hampshire Public Education.)

Legacy Comments18

Obamacare, for those posting below, read it and weep..... It will cost a family of four nearly $20,000 for the cheapest plan starting in 2016. People should not be trying to cover and hide this fact. https://www.google.com/search?q=ACA+will+cost+a+family+of+four+%2420%2C000&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a#hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=GPD&tbo=d&rls=org.mozilla:en-US%3Aofficial&sclient=psy-ab&q=ACA+will+cost+a+family+of+four+%2420%2C000&oq=ACA+will+cost+a+family+of+four+%2420%2C000&gs_l=serp.3...,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&bvm=bv.42553238,d.dmQ&fp=650e83a55f34ea61&biw=1347&bih=553

The proof is in the pudding Bruce. Latest news is that religious schools are recovering from their large downturn. Voucher programs have helped, and a rise in religious school attendance due to Latinos. What these schools teach speaks for itself in regards to how well their students do and what schools they attend afterwards. Even in 2000 when my child went, the list of colleges that the graduates were accpeted to was very impressive. So obviously if BBHS was just teaching religion, those students would not have been accpeted in those high ranking schools. You should not be surprised with the turn toward vouchers, charter schools etc Bruce. Folks want choice and results.

When you compare BB to the schools described in Duncan's piece, you're describing apples and oranges. You seem to have missed that point. Moreover, BB and parochial schools survived and thrived for generations w/o taxpayer support--that is w/o violating the 1st Amendment's wall of separation between church and state. While Catholic schools were designed to speed acculturation of the Irish, Italians, and French Canadians into the mainstream at a time they faced discrimination from the New England Yankee/WASPs, these schools have the opposite intent. They are designed to create a group deliberately separate from mainstream America, with carefully nurtured beliefs in the imminent arrival of the Rapture, Armageddon, and the 2nd Coming. In this country, we have the right of religious freedom--one is free to believe whatever one wishes, but taxpayer dollars ought not to pay to propagate it. If only they and supporters of this law read the Constitution as literally as they claim to read the Bible.

The headline says it all....democrats believe all money is the governments FIRST and they get to determine how much you get to keep and how you spend it....heavens forbid I give my personal private PRE-TAX dollars to a worthy cause such as school CHOICE

It requires a willful perversion of the both the NH Constitution and the U.S. Constitution to think this law passes constitutional muster. And it takes having swallowed a heaping portion of far right ideological bilge water to think this is a good idea on its own terms. From Article 6 of the NH Constitution: "... But no person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination. And every person, denomination or sect shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of a ny one sect, denomination or persuasion to another shall ever be established." And "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...."

If this perverts the NH Constitution and the US Constitution, then much of what Obama and Democrats have done must irk you as well. Obamacare, the way it was passed, Obama executive orders, Obama's attack on Lybia, Obama unilaterally saying that if Congress won't act, he will. All willful perverions of the spirit and intent of the US Constitution.

Sorry, I don't agree. The language I cited and the legal interpretations are clear. I think it's a slam-dunk that this law will be ruled unconstitutional. As for your examples, the SCOTUS already ruled on the ACA--you're overruled on that one. War powers is a tricky one, but the courts generally give the chief executive the benefit of the doubt. Most experts give Obama high marks for the US role in Khadafi's downfall. Some people are never happy; just call them the Carp Per Diem Brigade. You'll just have to deal with the fact that Obama won reelection running on a platform of more and better regulation of the marketplace, higher taxes on the rich, and spending to preserve the social safety net. Your party lost--again. Get over it

Obamacare will cost the average family of four $20,000 in time, it was passed in a sneaky way which perverts our system. Khadaffi's downfall simply empowered radical Islam. Obama has no mandate and how many less votes did he get? So your attitude is....."I am getting what I want, too bad for 49% of those who disagree"....classy!.......so you believe that we should protect the Delta Smelt at the cost of citizens? Social safety net?.....No, hammock for dependents. Obama won because all of the kings men (the press) anointed him along with sycophants who hate their country.

Reply to IaR below: When you rely on single-source news outlets for your "news", you're bound to get things wrong. Increasingly, the right is in an echo chamber where the only news they hear is news that confirms their prejudices, fears, and paranoia. That's why the Romney/Republicans were shocked by their losses in the 2012 election. Their own polls convinced them they'd win the White House, and they figured their voter suppression shenanigans would doubly ensure victory. You've made your views on the ACA well-known. Few/no healthcare experts outside your echo chamber agree with your Newsmax? claim that the ACA will cost a family of 4 $20,000/yr? Costs will go down for most who buy their own insurance, and their coverage will improve (maternity costs for example) thanks to subsidies. Because there are minimum benefit requirements, the younger, healthier, and better-off are likely to pay more. But should misfortune strike, they'll be better covered. It defies logic to think that costs per person will go up when the risk pool is increased, and costs are spread more widely and more fairly--that's the essence of an ideal, universal coverage plan. How civilized, how humane. For one who loudly proclaims the virtues of Christianity over other religions and those he seems to regard as 'godless', it's hard to see why this concept rankles so. As for the rest of your screed, it too has little or no bearing in fact, plenty of grounding in fear and ignorance. Your statement, "Obama won because all the kings[sic] men (the press) anointed [sic] him along with sycophants who hate their country" speaks volumes about your own mindset, and about who the hater really is.

You've set up a straw man to try to make your point--and failed. Last time I checked, such niceties as elected representatives and town meetings determined "how much you get to keep and how you spend it..." Another such "nicety" is the NH Constitution--you may have heard of it, though you loudly advocate for subverting it here. A portion of one's property taxes goes to support PUBLIC education, not school CHOICE, a loaded term if ever there was one. One is free to attend a school of one's choice in this country, if one wants to create it. But for those like yourself who always equate "freedom" with money--for without "money"--in the guise of 'personal responsibilty'-- one has few "freedoms" in this country beyond the freedom to sleep under the proverbial bridge. There's this hoary chestnut from the NH Constitution in Article 83: Note the last sentence especially-- "it shall be the duty of the legislators and magistrates, in all future periods of this government, to cherish the interest of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries and public schools, to encourage private and public institutions, rewards, and immunities for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and economy, honesty and punctuality, sincerity, sobriety, and all social affections, and generous sentiments, among the people: Provided, nevertheless, that no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools of institutions of any religious sect or denomination.

it is not governments money until you democrats tax it out of my pocket

Great Column! Thanks for the examples of what's being taught at the various religious schools. I've always wondered whether there are restrictions on what types of schools a parent can use the "vouchers" for. As I wrote once earlier, if parents starting requesting money to send their kids to some private school whose express purpose is to teach, for example, "atheism and (godless) communism," this entire scheme to use public tax dollars for private schools might come to a screeching halt.

FYI pfedorch. 10 states so far and DC allow their voucher programs to be used at religious schools. And federa funds for Pell Grants also allow those grants used at Religious Colleges. So it is being done federally for colleges and in those 10 states. One of my kid's went to BBHS and we are not religious. I was very happy with the education she got. And she is doing well in NYC career wise. I liked the fact that Brady had them do community service every year and the way they handled kids who needed help. A student would tutor them if they were having trouble. Daughter was HR all through junior high but when attended Brady had to take an extra course to get up to snuff with where they were at. When she was tested, even though she had an A in math. Brady's math program was ahead of public school..

Rest assured that any school that teaches creationism and biblical literacy is unlikely to be "ahead of public school." Brady, unlike public schools, doesn't take anybody who walks through the door with proof of residency, but can pick and choose. And if Brady's science curriculum ever resembled that described in the Duncan article, there'd be a mass exodus from the school. And for Pell Grants, those are for higher education. The number of students going on to higher education to learn that the "Flintstones" is accurate human prehistory is close to nil.

Rabbit, what you write about your kid's experience at Bishop Brady SHOULD be a plea to make similar improvements in the public schools rather than a retreat from our 150 year tradition of providing the best possible free education to everybody's kid. Would you have sent your offspring to a hypothetical Concord regional "King Abdullah Madrasseh"? I thought not.

Well, our 150 year tradition has not evolved into a good system. Progressives are always worried about how we stack up against the rest of the world. We spend more than most and have a poor system with mediocre results. Sure, I would send my kids to the "King Abdullar Madressah" school......in period 3 the teach the "Religion of Peace" class followed by "Death to the Infidels" in period 4. I am pretty sure that BB may have a period 3 but nothing to compare to period 4.

No need to go to a private school for that, just send your kids to a public school, we are already doing that.


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