Adams: Public Funds for Religious Schools? It’s Been Happening in NYC for Years

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The Supreme Court recently decided that the state of Maine cannot prohibit religious academies from participating in a school choice program that uses public funds to finance students’ private school education through vouchers.

The concept of school vouchers is based on the idea that families are given credit for a specific amount of public money, which they can then utilize towards tuition at the private school of their preference. This money, which would typically go to traditional public and charter schools, is instead directed towards private schools.

Opponents of school vouchers frequently argue that this system diverts funds from underprivileged school districts and draws away the best students and their actively engaged parents. Although the same arguments are applied to charter schools, they strangely do not apply to New York City’s unzoned and gifted programs. The primary concern raised to dissuade voters from supporting school vouchers is that, since parents can use the credit at any educational institution, a portion of public funds will inevitably be allocated to private religious schools, similar to how public funds such as Pell Grants are used at religious colleges.

Self-proclaimed progressives like former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio strongly oppose the idea of school vouchers, unless they need to rely on public funds to support their own projects. For instance, when De Blasio took office in 2014, he promised to provide cost-free high-quality pre-K to all eligible 4-year-olds in New York City. He ensured that every classroom would be led by a teacher holding a master’s degree in early childhood education. Toward the end of his second term, De Blasio expanded the initiative to include 3-year-olds. During his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2019, he emphasized universal pre-K as his most significant accomplishment and campaign priority.

Back in 2016, my husband and I questioned the feasibility of De Blasio’s plans, considering the overcrowding in public schools. We pondered whether there were truly 20,000 unemployed individuals in New York City with master’s degrees in early childhood education. As it turned out, the answer was no. By collaborating with community-based organizations, the mayor found a solution. However, many of these organizations happened to be religious schools and faith-based daycare centers.

The mayor was keen on involving these existing organizations for multiple reasons. Firstly, there was a lack of physical space in public schools to accommodate the large number of students De Blasio had promised to include. Secondly, teachers and administrators in these organizations could be paid less than their counterparts in public schools for performing the same jobs. This unfair situation continues to persist to this day.

De Blasio was so desperate for the participation of religious schools that he even agreed to allow prayer breaks if they joined his initiative. Additionally, pre-K programs housed in religious institutions have the freedom to prioritize job applicants of the same religious faith.

But wait, prayer breaks in "public" schools? Isn’t that a violation of the separation between church and state? Although parents have the option to exempt their children from prayer time, they can also choose not to use their vouchers for religious schools. The fact that public money can now be used for private religious schools does not imply that anyone is obliged to attend such institutions. It simply offers those who wish to attend a religious school the same choice as parents who want a non-religious school that aligns with their child’s needs, which the local public school fails to provide.

For those individuals, especially New Yorkers, who are concerned that their tax dollars may go towards funding religious schools due to the recent Supreme Court ruling, it is important to note that this is already happening at a local level.

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  • rowandavid

    I am a 32-year-old educational blogger and student. I love to share my knowledge and experiences with others through writing. I believe that knowledge is power, and I am passionate about helping others learn and grow.