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My Turn: Religious schools shouldn’t get public money

Last modified: 2/19/2013 10:33:57 AM
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.)


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