The subject of government aid for private (parochial and parental) schools is increasingly in the news.
Here in Michigan, according to a recent Associated Press dispatch, a bill is about to be submitted to the state legislature which will seek $21 million in state funds to help support parochial schools. (This news dispatch repeatedly speaks of “parochial” schools; what it means, of course, is non-public schools, whether parochial or parental.) This bill is reported to have the backing of CEF, Citizens for Educational Freedom. Here, briefly, are the facts about this bill as reported in the Grand Rapids Press:
1. The bill is designed to ease the financial situation of non-public schools. The number of pupils in non-public schools is said to be about 14 per cent of Michigan’s public school enrollment. Costs of operating non-public schools are said to have gone up 147 per cent since 1964, resulting in some 27,000 students being transferred to public schools during the same period, and also threatening some of these schools with the necessity of closing.
2. The bill will seek payment of $25 per private school pupil for each reimbursable course per year.
3. Such reimbursable courses would be English, mathematics, and science, in which, it is alleged, religion is not taught. The news dispatch does not explain why these three courses are singled out, nor whether they are merely mentioned as examples.
4. The limit of funds per child would be $50 for elementary school children and $100 per high school student, except in inner city schools, where the figures would be $100 and $150 respectively. (I suppose one might call this discrimination?)
5. Payment of funds would be to parents, not to schools. By this method of financing, backers of the bill believe, the charge of violation of the principle of separation of church and state will be avoided.
Additional items of information about this bill are interesting, if not ominous. For one thing, a statewide campaign for support of this move has already begun. For another, not only does the bill have the backing of CEF, an organization said to have 15,000 members in Michigan; but, as might be expected, Roman Catholics (who have 84 per cent of Michigan’s non-public school enrollment) have already organized parish committees in the state’s .five dioceses. This stands to reason, since they will be the greatest beneficiaries financially. And other denominations are also said to be assisting in various ways. For still another, the argument that apparently is to be used as a lever to get legislative support is purely a financial one. Here is the picture. According to State Department of Education figures, many public school districts are already in serious financial difficulty; 62 districts are already running in the red, and this number is expected to increase to more than 100 before year’s end. Moreover, the influx of 27,000 private school pupils into the public schools is already costing taxpayers an extra $18 million per year; and it is estimated that if all non-public school pupils were put in the public schools, this would cost taxpayers $202 million in operating costs above what already is being paid. Hence, this is going to be the lever to pry $21 million out of tax conscious legislators. The only questions seem to be: 1) Whether this lobby (for that is what it is] can lure the legislature with the bait of paying out $21 million rather than an imaginary $202 million. 2) Whether this devious method of avoiding the charge of violation of the principle of separation of church and state will meet with approval,—first of the legislature, and then of the courts.
There are, it seems to me, several objections to this plan and similar ones. Some of these I mentioned in the last issue. Others are rather obvious, it seems to me. There is, for example, the very practical question where the proposed $21 million is going to come from. The state schools are already caught between skyrocketing costs and vanishing local and state tax resources. Hence, this can only mean another tax increase. The state cannot pay out $21 million without taking $21 million in; in fact, it will cost more than $21 million, since, as I remarked last time, the government always has to keep its share before it hands anything back. There just “ain’t no such animal” as a free handout!
Secondly, this bill means, in effect, that we are going to be required to help pay for Roman Catholic schools and Lutheran schools as well as for public schools. It is bad enough that we are required to pay for public schools with our tax money, in the name of “neutrality.” But there is something particularly repulsive to me to have to pay for Roman Catholic schools or any other religious schools other than my own,—the more so when I think of the fact that these Roman Catholic schools will run off with 84 per cent of this proposed $21 million. And this becomes still more galling to me when I think of the fact that this also is going to be done in the name of neutrality. For, remember, these payments are supposedly going to be made for courses “in which religion is not taught.” Meanwhile, this same news dispatch already reports that Roman Catholic parishes “may require parents to turn the state funds back over to the schools.”
But my chief objection is a principal one. As far as our own schools,—any other schools which really purpose to be Calvinistic,—are concerned, this is government aid for a price. And that price is the fundamental principal of our schools. And that price is too great to pay! For note that the premise of this entire bill is that idea of “reimbursable courses.” And what is a reimbursable course? It is a course “in which religion is not taught.” Examples of such courses are supposed to be science and mathematics and English. And I suppose one could argue that penmanship and art and physical education and geography and even history could be added to this list.
This is the myth of neutrality.
And remember: a myth it is!
This is true of the public schools. They are supposed to be true to the principle of neutrality; they are supposed to be religion-less. They are supposed to be neither Christian nor Jewish nor Mohammedan nor Buddhist, neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant nor Lutheran. And this is a nice idea, for the world and for the tolerant (or intolerant?) churches of today. But let alone the fact that this idea is causing no end of difficulty for the public schools themselves and for the courts of our land, this is from a Scriptural and Reformed point of view an utterly false and impossible principle.
Let us take an example, a simple one: the subject of science. Is science, can science be, a subject in which religion is not taught? Can it be a neutral subject? To keep the question in simple and general terms, let us suppose that in a public school God is left out of the science instruction. Would that make that science instruction neutral? It would supposedly make the subject literally God-less. Seemingly it would create a vacuum. But, in the first place, we must remember that in the light of Scripture that which is God-less is ungodly: it is anti-God. It is exactly characteristic of the wicked that “God is not in all their thoughts.” And, in the second place, we must remember that this supposed vacuum does not exist. In the name of being neutral, other gods are put in the place of God. So-called “neutral” science will elevate scientific man to the position of the Godhead; or it will substitute the religion of evolutionism for the true religion. But religious, not neutral, that science instruction will surely be. Its religion will necessarily be either the true religion, or the false religion. It will be either for Christ or against Christ. Neutrality is a myth, a lie!
But certainly for our own schools it is principally impossible and practically forbidden that there be any such a thing as a course “in which religion is not taught.” For we profess to be not schools withthe Bible, but schools founded upon the Bible. We profess to furnish not education plus religion, but education that is intrinsically religious, and that too, in all subjects. Our schools aim to furnish the “man of God” thoroughly unto every good work. They purpose in all their instruction to prepare the covenant seed to live in every sphere of life out of the principle of regeneration, and that too, antithetically. Because this is the very principle of our Calvinistic, Reformed, Protestant Reformed parental schools, it is absolutely impossible and unethical to accept government aid upon this premise of “reimbursable,” that is, non-religious, or so-called religiously neutral, courses.
The cost is too great, far too great!
It involves either outright abandonment of the very principle of our educational system or lying, tongue-in-cheek, hypocritical denial of that principle.
Either of the two is a sacrifice of principle.
And. such a sacrifice of principle is far too great a price to pay for the sake of a few paltry dollars,—or for the sake of many thousands of dollars!
It would be tantamount to selling our birthright for a mess of pottage!
Let us therefore oppose this movement. And let us beware of the temptation, in this covetous, materialistic age, to go along with a movement like this. Pressures are already mounting among supporters of the Christian school movement generally to view state aid as a kind of panacea for the financial ills of parental schools. And, judging from the campaign that will be put on for the legislative bill discussed in this article, pressures will increase still more. Resist these pressures!
Government aid may be made available even to our schools,—for a price.
But the price is too great!