by Sean Keane ‘23
Now more than ever, the spotlight is shining on the state of the American system of education. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns have brought the classroom into every family’s home. At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year in particular, some parents became dissatisfied with the public education system as they saw their local schools stay remote while Catholic schools were opening up.
As the nation continue into the third year of the pandemic, many of these parents have decided to accept the costly tuition and enroll their children in Catholic schools in the hopes of better preparing them for college and beyond.
This begs the question: is it fair that a family should pay tuition for religious schools on top of what they are being taxed? Is our current system limiting parents’ and students’ freedom of religion?
To respond to these and other questions, many states have implemented controversial “school voucher” systems.
School voucher systems give parents the choice regarding where their public school tax dollars are being spent—essentially offering to fund the parents’ school of choice so their child can attend it.
These vouchers may not necessarily cover the full cost of tuition at a certain school; rather, they cover the average amount of money that the government would spend educating a single student.
In many school districts across the country, there is currently a lottery system in place to determine who will receive a voucher. This is due to the fact that most school districts do not have enough money to give vouchers to every student. Another reason, however, is that school districts want to keep the majority of students in public schools since, if they gave vouchers to everyone, some public schools might shut down.
School vouchers have raised concerns about fairness in terms of both taxes and education budgets. Some school districts have higher taxes and larger budgets than others, which can complicate the situation of trying to use vouchers to attend a private school.
Some state governments have elected to deal with this predicament by creating a tax deduction option. In certain cases, this allows for an equal playing ground regarding school choice. By making it just as financially accessible to go to Catholic school, other schools will be pushed to improve themselves since there would no longer be a guaranteed, steady influx of students.
This system is in no way perfect but, then again, neither is our current education system. School vouchers can afford families (and especially lower-income families) greater academic flexibility.
Even if this allows a small number of high-achieving children to receive a better education and pursue college careers, many would consider this system a success.
There is, however, another side to the story.
If Catholic schools are opened up to government funding, then it raises questions regarding the First Amendment’s separation of Church and State. More specifically, this means that school vouchers may allow the government to exert greater influence over Catholic schools since they would now rely on more of the tax payer’s money.
In addition to the controversy over state funding when it comes to Catholic schools, school choice is said to deprive schools that are already struggling of the funds they need to stay open. Although some may argue that the increase of the gap between successful schools and unsuccessful schools only pushes poorer schools to improve, any situation where multitudes of schools close is certainly not ideal and a potential risk.
There is no easy answer to this issue, but it is sure to receive national attention at some point in the future—especially since the implementation of voucher systems can have widespread impact on students’ futures.