Frenier: Should we include religious schools in our education system?

By Carol Frenier

Both federal and state courts have ruled recently that religious schools must be included in voucher programs that are made available to other non-public schools. This has raised concern among many educators and politicians that using taxpayer dollars may involve religious indoctrination.

These officials might be surprised to learn that many Vermont taxpayers, myself included, do not want their tax dollars used for woke indoctrination either. Indoctrination about transgenderism, variations of CRT, or belief in a forthcoming anthropogenic climate catastrophe, for example, is based on a worldview as subjective as any religious belief.

Rice Memorial High School

Rice Memorial High School is a coeducational Roman Catholic secondary and college preparatory school in South Burlington, Vermont. It is one of many religious schools that stand to benefit from recent court rulings that say states can’t withhold taxpayer funds related to voucher programs.

Any educational system you can name teaches some core values. Whether religious, philosophical or political, there is a fundamental point of view behind the content and/or style of instruction. What woke teachers consider to be “true,” I consider to be questionable ideology. What I consider one of the most brilliant documents ever written (the U.S. Constitution) some woke teachers consider a self-serving document written by white, male slave holders.

Conceding this reality, many countries around the world have solved this problem by adopting something called “educational pluralism.” According to Ashley Rogers Berner of John Hopkins University, educational pluralism means that state governments fund and hold accountable a wide variety of schools, including religious ones, but do not necessarily operate them. It accepts the fact that education is a community concern but also honors the beliefs of the nation’s families, allowing each school to teach according to its own values and mission, provided the school meets the state standards. As such, she says, it provides a way out of the winner-take-all mentality that characterizes so many educational debates.

The Netherlands, she explains, is the most educationally plural country in the world. It gives block grants for staff, facilities, and operations to each of its 36 different types of schools. In Belgium, she continues, half of its French-speaking students attend Catholic or independent schools that are fully funded by the state. These two examples are representative of the majority of countries in the western world. The U.S. is actually the outlier, still believing that the government run schools can teach “objectively.”

In a pluralistic system parents have multiple choices of schools, as long as those schools meet the academic and citizenship training standards of the state. (Citizenship training prepares students to engage in civil activities and treat other groups with respect.) Thus, a parent can send one child to a Catholic school, where discipline and academic rigor are emphasized, and send another child to a progressive school, where sensitivity to social issues can be affirmed and encouraged.

Many people will suppose that such a system would breed division and intolerance. Ironically, early data indicates that, if anything, graduates of pluralistic systems actually score higher on citizenship. Perhaps this is because from an early age children watch adults respecting different perspectives when deciding where their children would be educated.

If you want to learn more about educational pluralism, look for “No One Way to School: Pluralism and American Public Education,” by Ashley Rogers Berner (School of Education, Johns Hopkins University).

This system, or some variation thereof, is worth considering. It could get us beyond our winner-take-all mentality and reframe our thinking about religious schools as just one more choice that parents (who are also taxpayers) can make for their children’s education.

Carol Frenier is a small business owner living in Chelsea, Vermont. She taught American History for a decade in Massachusetts high schools before moving to Vermont in 1992.

Image courtesy of Rice Memorial High School
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16 thoughts on “Frenier: Should we include religious schools in our education system?

  1. No definitely. Not!

    Our government is corrupt, most churches don’t preach the bible all we need is government controlling religion.

    We had a reformation because the church was corrupt.

    Theocracies are completely evil. Do we want Islamic rule?

    God rules, he needs no help from any man or government. If our population in VERMONT had their heads in the Bible we wouldn’t be in the mess we are. We are in a complete state of ruin because we have been left to our own deviant thoughts.

    Perfect example is this weeks court nominations, whereby the highest judge in the nation can’t tell us what a woman is because she’s not a biologist. Clearly she hasn’t any biblical knowledge and skipped all her science classes.

    Yes we need places for children to learn the bible, without a doubt.

  2. How about we remove the state from being involved with education? Every other method produced better results with less money and avoids all the indoctrination.

    • Hear, Hear! You make perfect sense! Let’s also eliminate the U.S. Department of Education as well because there is nothing in the Constitution that allows federal oversight of public education. While we’re at it, let’s eliminate ALL of the alphabet soup of government agencies for which there is no Constitutional provision. It would give new meaning to the phrase “Cancel Culture” in a more positive context.

      • And there’s nothing in the Constitution that prevents ‘federal oversight of public education’… UNLESS it infringes on our individual rights.

        What I’m trying to explain is, that if we can agree to a methodology for reconciling the need for government in education and the protection of individual rights, we will have solved the entire puzzle.

        Keep Ben Franklin’s opinion on the matter in mind when he addressed the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

        “In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”

    • What do you mean ‘remove the state from being involved’?

      ‘We the people’… ARE ‘the state’. We’ve agreed, as a society, to subsidize education, to insure that all children learn to read, write, do arithmatic and have a basic understanding of how are constitutional republic works.

      It’s as easy to say… ‘remove the state from being involved’ as it is to say ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his need’. Sounds great. But what does it mean?

      In the most over-simlified of terminology, what you’re saying is ‘remove the state’. And that sentiment stands in opposition of everything our Founders espoused.

      So, I challenge you, and everyone else out there – explain to me, in detail, what in the world you’re talking about.

      • Jay. I believe the general tone here is that those at the highest levels of state government may have become more dedicated to their politics and position than to their constituents. As a result, state regulations with regard to education are driven by forces other than what might be the will of the constituency. A closer look at the history of state legislation over the years as it pertains to education would indicate that more and more control over local schools has been taken from the towns by “the state” and continues today. The currently-proposed regulation of what can and cannot be a school mascot is a prime example. Reading, writing, arithmetic, and a basic understanding of how a constitutional republic works seem to have taken a backseat to issues like CRT, and “gender identity”. Education about such issues lie with parents and not “the state”. In these cases, “We the people” are not really “the state” but are more like “subjects” of those making the laws. In the meantime, our kids are coming out of 12 years of public education being confused about who they really are and lacking rational thought, logic, and common sense. Complicated as this issue might be, something needs to change and it starts with parents taking back the responsibility for raising their kids. There’s a lot at stake here.

        • I agree Marek. But parents can’t take responsibility for their children when the State takes that responsibility away from them – the proverbial Catch 22.

          And you’re also correct that political legislators, and their appointees, represent a special interest tyranny of the majority. Two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.

          But the education cartel still has the courts with which to contend. The courts are our only hope. And the SCOTUS has already ruled that School Choice doesn’t offend the first amendment. And there are several court cases pending in Vermont’s Federal and Superior Courts based on Vermont’s Brigham decision as another case in point.

          ” In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

          As I explained below, “… it’s the constitutionality of the system that’s most important.” The options are stark, and voters soon will likely have another choice to make. “Let everyone have the same access to independent school tuitioning, or don’t let anyone have that option.”

          As for me, give me liberty……

  3. In the Netherlands, all religious and/or private schools receive the same state/town funds per student as all public schools.

    • SO if you want to compare the US to Netherlands:

      Netherlands top personal income tax 52%
      United States top personal income tax 39.6%

      N – Corporate income tax 25.8%
      US – Corp income tax 21%

      N – Universal Health Care
      US – Commercial Healthcare

      N – College is subsidized to be affordable $800 US to $2300 US per academic school yr
      US – anywhere from $10K to over $70K per yr

      As for school choice:
      In VT, approx 4000 students (private/religious) receive no state funding – If you add a voucher of $15,000 – that’s an additional $60 million needed. And this does not include all the capital bonds that must be paid back.

      • Re: “As for school choice:
        In VT, approx 4000 students (private/religious) receive no state funding – If you add a voucher of $15,000 – that’s an additional $60 million needed. And this does not include all the capital bonds that must be paid back.”

        There are only 8800 or so independent school students in Vermont. Many of them are from other states and international countries. And about 4000 of Vermont’s independent school students already receive public tuition funding.

        I’m not sure where you get the ‘no state funding’ 4000 student enrollment figure. I’m doing further research on that now and will let you know what I find.

        In any case, there are about 80,000 preK-12 students in Vermont costing VT taxpayers about $1.5 Billion annually – NOT counting local school district expenditures. That’s about $19,000 per year alone. And in my district, we have a $4.7 Million budget serving about 205 students. That’s more than $23,000 per student, or and additional $4000 per student in local costs.

        So anytime taxpayers can spend only the $16,000+- tuition and get a great education to boot, it’s a net benefit in my book.

      • Okay: analyzing the transitional cost of moving to a universal School Choice system gets complicated. We’ve dug such a deep hole for ourselves with the current public school governance, it will take time to climb out of it. But, at the very least, we can stop digging the hole deeper by allowing all parents to choose the school they believe best meets the needs of their children.

        Vermont 2022 Education Budget $1,800,256,714

        The budget pays:
        • $1.43B, funding the voter approved school spending of all local budgets.
        • Special Education Aid to local schools, at $213M
        • Transportation Aid, Small School Support and Technical Education Aid to districts total about $42M combined.
        • The annual “Normal” pension contribution is paid out of the Education Fund. However, over $140M of educator retirement cost (pensions and post-employment benefits) is paid out of the General Fund annually to close the gap of the unfunded liability.

        There are 74,930 K-12 students in Vermont

        Cost per student: $1,800,256,714/74,930 = $24,025

        And this cost includes approximately 2600 students tuitioned to independent schools costing between $15,000 and $17,000 per student.

        Now if there are 4000 students currently paying the full cost of education to independent schools, and they become eligible for the publicly funded tuition, yes, that would account for an additional $64 Million in taxpayer education expense. But then, arguably, for every other student, currently costing $24,000 per year in a public school, that might choose an independent school, the potential cost savings could be $7000 per student.

        Ah, yes, but is it a dollar-for-dollar trade-off? Likely not. For one thing, the retirement fund costs wouldn’t disappear, at least not completely. And the efficiency of scale in those public schools losing students would decrease – meaning the current $24,000 cost per student would increase a bit more – at least in the short term.

        But over the long term, consider that tuitioning will save money, especially if/when more and more students choose independent schools and public schools become more efficient in order to compete with them.

        And this is what worries the public-school monopoly. If, for example, only one quarter of Vermont’s public-school students (18,750 students) decided to choose a tuitioned independent school, and the savings were only half the actual difference between the public-school cost per student and the tuitioned school cost per student ($3500 difference) there would be $65 Million in annual savings. I think that’s a reasonably conservative estimate.

        But even more importantly, current education cost increase trends would reverse and, if the studies on the difference in outcomes between a School Choice environment and the current monopoly governance hold true, student academic performance, well-being, and future employment outcomes will begin to improve too.

        But in the final analysis, its’ the constitutionality of the system that’s most important. Voters have a choice too. Let everyone have the same access to independent school tuitioning, or don’t let anyone have that option.

        • Speaking of economics and taxpayers, if Vermont became the first state with state wide choice, it would conceivably attract young families, reverse demographic decline, and create more taxpayers.

  4. As I’ve pointed out before, one of the first SCOTUS rulings supporting School Choice when challenged on 1st Amendment Establishment Clause jurisprudence was Zelman v Simmons-Harris, in 2001. And in that decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s concurring opinion pointed out the following.

    First, federal, state, and local governments already provide support to religious institutions. Religious organizations already qualify for exemptions from the federal corporate income tax, the corporate income tax in many States, and property taxes in all 50 States. Clergy qualify for a federal tax break on income used for housing expenses. In addition, the Federal Government provides individuals, corporations, trusts, and estates a tax deduction for charitable contributions to qualified religious groups. And the Federal Government and certain state governments provide tax credits for educational expenses, many of which are spent on education at religious schools.

    Federal dollars also reach religiously affiliated organizations through public health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, through educational programs such as Pell Grants, the G. I. Bill of Rights, and through childcare such as the Child Care and Development Block Grant Program.

    So… where is the complaint of compelled religious support against these policies?

    Justice O’Connor goes on to say that:

    “…the goal of the Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence is to determine whether, after the Cleveland voucher program was enacted, parents were free to direct state educational aid in either a nonreligious or religious direction.”

    And this is the critical point. Taxpayer funded school choice vouchers do not compel anyone to support a religion. The vouchers support freedom of choice. And the first amendment not only says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,”. It also says Congress shall make no law “… prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”.

    The fact that we are allowed to make personal choices on behalf of our children, while at the same time, taking advantage of the individual liberty and freedom we have by virtue of our U.S. Constitution, compels us only to protect and defend those individual inalienable rights – not prohibit them.

    I hope everyone takes the time to read Justice O’Connor’s opinion.

    https://oconnorlibrary.org/supreme-court/zelman-v-simmons-harris-2001

  5. Here’s a flash for anyone that thinks “religion” has been removed from government-run public schools: “Religion” hasn’t been removed from public schools. The “religion” of secular humanism has just displaced all others. If there is any doubt that secular humanism is a religion, consider that secular humanism has it’s own doctrines and dogma, the same any other religion, and American kids are being indoctrinated into it on a daily basis. Is it any wonder that homeschool is gaining such ground today? Our five kids were homeschooled back in the eighties and I remember when we were constantly questioned about their being adequately “socialized”. Not only were they adequately socialized, but compared to the products of today’s public education, they were more than adequately educated as well.

  6. All schools should be financed by a voucher given to the parents. Its the only thing that will fix the corruption.

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