Georgia’s tax credit-funded private school scholarship program, as in other states, is intended to give children from needy families the chance to go to a private school. However, as the Southern Education Foundation recently pointed out, enrollment records don’t reflect that the money is always being used to educate talented, needy recruits. Often, the funds are used to benefit upper-income and already-enrolled students.
Making a difference?
Proponents of the bill say it is making a difference, as many of those currently enrolled in private schools are from less-than-wealthy homes. State representative and bill co-author Earl Ehrhart (R) said:
“I can’t tell you about the difference it makes in the lives of these kids.”
No documentation was offered, however, to support that claim.
Supporters with an agenda
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative coalition of corporations and politicians, is a major proponent of the Georgia bill. The council lobbies various state legislatures over conservative concerns. ALEC was a player in the on-going Treyvon Martin case by supporting Florida’s loose “Stand Your Ground” gun laws.
Julie Underwood, dean of the school of education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, said:
“ALEC is a huge player in pushing forward a conservative agenda based on the premise that the free market and private sectors address social problems better than the government.”
And what about the Constitution?
Some believe that many of the supporters of the Georgia bill have a conservative theological agenda. The majority of schools covered in the program are religious schools, some of which demand a family declaration of faith as a condition of enrollment. Some teach creationism over evolution. Many Americans would view the use of public funds to promote a faith- based agenda to be a clear violation of the First Amendment.
Furthermore, because of the blurred line between public and private funds, it is difficult to challenge the laws on a constitutional basis. State money being channeled into private hands eliminates the taxpayer from having a say in how it is appropriated.
An American lesson
While certainly not all private schools are faith-based, it is questionable that those that are should have access to any public moneys. The American taxpayers must ask themselves if they want to fund the education of the next generation by those with a narrow theological and political agenda. Young minds are sponges that ideally need to soak in many schools of thought in order to be able to make their own intelligent choices later in life. The public school system, with all its problems, at least provides the opportunity to learn from dissenting views. Some would argue that, as Americans, those lessons are the ones most dearly won.