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We have asked James Lanting, editor of our “Church and State” column to respond to this question. 

– Ed. Comm.

For the past few years the State of Illinois has sponsored a Pupil Transportation Reimbursement program. Illinois, and perhaps other states in similar programs, offer parents of nonpublic schools a partial reimbursement for costs of busing their children to Christian schools, if the school confirms attendance. There is also talk about tuition vouchers becoming available to parents of our Christian schools. The argument is made that these forms of government aid are merely permissible assistance to the parents rather than government aid to our schools. What should be our position regarding receiving such aid?

Garrett Flikkema

Lansing IL

Response:

Some Reformed Christians refuse any governmental aid or benefits as a matter of principle. This would include a refusal, I suppose, of Medicare, Medicaid, social security disability payments, flood disaster relief, farm assistance programs, college tuition grants, low interest loans for college education, etc.

But perhaps a more reasoned approach toward government aid or cost reimbursement (especially education costs which Christian school taxpayers pay twice!) would be for Christians to deny or refuse such aid when the aid is accompanied by a realistic threat of corresponding and unwanted government control over the recipient or the use of the funds.

This threat has always made parochial and private schools wary of receiving government direct aid for tuition and books. The old adage of “He who pays the fiddler calls the tune” is generally applicable to substantive government aid programs. And if tuition vouchers payable to parents would necessarily entail the threat of government intrusion and regulation causing us to compromise our Reformed educational principles or relinquish control, it would seem prudent to refuse these vouchers.

This is not to say, however, that all cost reimbursement programs should be summarily rejected. For example, it is hard to see how school milk subsidy programs or the Illinois Pupil Transportation Reimbursement program ($80 per year reimbursed to parents busing children more than 1 ½ miles from non-public school) pose a realistic threat to government control over the schools these children attend. Moreover, the fact that the school officials must notify the parents of this program annually, and certify attendance by the pupil, hardly raises the specter of dreaded government control.

Finally, your specific concern regarding the Illinois Pupil Transportation Reimbursement program now appears to be a moot point. The Illinois legislature has not appropriated any funds to this program for the ’93/’94 school year and the Reimbursement Office of the State Board of Education recently informed me that this program has been abandoned for lack of funds.

James Lanting