by Edd Doerr
Is there a "capacity issue" if school voucher and/or tuition tax credit programs expand, as many Republican governors and legislators intend? Will finding "physical space" for voucher schools be a problem? These questions were asked in an article in the June 15 issue of Education Week. And the answer to both questions is not only a loud, resonating NO but an emphatic HELL NO.
And why, you might ask, is that? Simply this two part response. The decline in Catholic school enrollment from 5.5 million students in 1965 to about two million today means that there is classroom space for a huge number of voucher schools. And, as the growth in nonpublic school enrollment in recent years has been largely in conservative Protestant schools, please note that there are literally tens of thousands of religious education facilities in conservative churches nationwide used only on Sunday mornings that could easily and inexpensively be adapted for full time use as classrooms for millions of K-12 students in voucher programs.
Make no mistake, if the public funds spigot is opened wide for vouchers and tax credits (i.e. tax code vouchers), churches will be utilized to the maximum for new private schools, schools that will inevitably be filled with kids sorted primarily by religious identification and secondarily by ideology, ethnicity, and degree of special need. When and if this happens, public education will shrink to serving mainly the poor and disadvantaged, the teaching profession will degenerate to s shadow of its former status, teachers will be sorted by religious orientation, and education in America will sink to something worse than mere mediocrity.
Since over 80% of nonpublic school enrollment is in faith-based schools, the voucherization of education will mean that nearly all of the kids in these schools will be subjected to systematic indoctrination inimical to women's rights and denied access to the kind of comprehensive sexuality education that lowers teen pregnancy rates. The kids in the conservative Protestant (i.e. fundamentalist) schools will get indoctrinated in the areas of science, history and literature with the ideas pushed by pseudohistorian David Barton and the likes of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Tim and Beverly LaHaye.
If you think I exaggerate, read Albert Menendez' book Visions of Reality: What Fundamentalist Schools Teach (Prometheus Books, and available from me at Box 6656, Silver Spring, MD 20916 for $8) or Frances R.A. Paterson's book Democracy and Intolerance: Christian School Curricula, School Choice, and Public Policy (Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation).
If you are not scared, you should be.