Colorado’s Voucher Issue

Today the New York Times ran a front-cover story about Colorado’s state Supreme Court’s refusal to allow vouchers to fund religious schools. This might lead you to wonder, “Why is this happening? What’s so wrong with vouchers?”

Voucher programs are typically a municipal initiative (like in Milwaukee, Wisconsin or Douglas County, Colorado), and sometimes a state initiative (like in Minnesota). Vouchers consolidate public money collected via tax revenue and then the program redirects the money intended for public schools back to parents. Parents are then able to use this voucher to offset the cost of private schools.

School choice proponents like this because it places control in the hands of parents. Courts do not like these programs because the most affordable private schools are often religious schools. Though vouchers typically hover in the $1,500 – $3,000 dollar amount, independent private schools often cost over $20,000 a year for tuition. Meanwhile, private religious schools average tuition is typically less than $7,000. So, if you’re a parent with a $2,500 voucher that clearly will go a lot further toward paying a $7,000 tuition rather than a $20,000 tuition.

Make sense?

At issue here is the separation of church and state, a maxim repeated often and implicitly addressed in the U.S. Constitution under the First Amendment, which decrees Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

Many education reforms butt up against the Establishment and Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment (e.g. sex education in school, etc). What do you think? Are publicly-funded vouchers in violation of the First Amendment when they are applied toward tuition for religious schools?

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