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The Two Problems With the New Push for Vouchers

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America's educational system isn't what it used to be. Our country was once known around the world for its stellar schools and teachers, which is part of the reason why so many people immigrated to this country in the first place. But after decades of budget cuts and lax regulation, the bulk of our nation's school system now leaves much to be desired.

Legislators and parents alike are grasping for solutions to this problem, with some unfortunately coming to the conclusion that vouchers are the best way to reform and improve our educational system. The first critical shortcoming of voucher programs is that they divert scarce public funds to help a small group of students at the expense of other students, who must then try to continue in schools that now have even less money with which to try and provide a quality education. The second central drawback of vouchers is that they often are used to fund religious education, and that situation results in taxpayer dollars being inappropriately filtered into indoctrinating kids in one brand of religion. And on top of that, such religious schools aren't subject to the same regulations that public schools face, which is why some fall far below public schools in terms of safety and performance.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal recently pushed for a voucher program that would allow state funds to be used to pay for religious schools. While taxpayer funding of religious schools should be unconstitutional and is bad public policy, Gov. Jindal's overhaul of the state's education system was still approved by the state legislature. Everything was fine until one of the state representatives that voted for the bill, Rep. Valarie Hodges, discovered that the new law might include taxpayer support of Muslim schools.

Hodges says that she supports "government funding for teaching the fundamentals of America's Founding Fathers' religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools." Now Hodges says "we need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana."

These statements reveal Hodges' prejudice against the millions of non-Christian Americans and they also give us some important insight into the minds of those who want vouchers. It's not that they want education alternatives for kids; it's not even that they want a religious education for kids. What they really want is Christian-only education, and probably a very conservative version of Christianity at that.

So what type of Christian lessons does Ms. Hodges want taught in our nation's schools? Look no further than a Christian curriculum taught by private schools in her own state of Louisiana. This program, the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, states that the continued existence of the Loch Ness monster proves that evolution is false. This program teaches that "apartheid was beneficial to South Africa as segregated schools meant different heritages could be passed on to children." It also teaches that there is unquestionable proof for creationism.

This program, like most religious curriculum, poses a serious threat to our nation's educational system and to current and future students. When schoolchildren are taught religious dogma instead of a credible academic program, their ability to function in the real world and compete for jobs is drastically diminished. Religious teachings should not come at the expense of things like science education, mathematics, English literature, and history, which should always be taught based on our best knowledge of them at the time.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Hodges isn't alone in her effort to starve public schools of their funding and indoctrinate our children with religious ideas. States across the country already have voucher programs, and many more are trying to get them. While states such as Oklahoma and Pennsylvania already learned through court rulings that voucher programs and taxpayer funding of religious schools is unconstitutional, it's likely that other states won't listen until they too are challenged in court.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can avoid the costly taxpayer-funded court battles over religion and religious teachings if we simply honored the Constitution and kept religion and government separated. A parent can ensure that their child gets all the religious instruction they want by attending services, partaking in weekend religious education programs, or through participation in religious youth outreach groups. But parents should know that school time is for learning about the world we all inhabit, and not merely yet another time to talk about religion.