A recent Associated Press item in the Grand Rapids Press entitled, “Parochial Schools Seek Funds,” brought this subject to mind. According to this item, “Officials of Michigan’s private schools Wednesday asked the State Board of Education to consider using state funds for private schools to help ward off ‘a revenue crisis.'” These “officials of Michigan’s private schools” included a representative of the Lutheran schools, a representative of Roman Catholic education, and a representative of the Christian (parental) schools. Whether the latter was from the National Union of Christian Schools office is not stated in the news report. I suppose I need hardly add that this representative of the Christian schools represented Christian schools exclusive of our local Protestant Reformed Christian schools. The argumentation used in the above-mentioned plea was purely pragmatic.
The Lutheran representative is reported as arguing from the idea that non-public schools are making substantial contributions to the general welfare of the total community, that private schools save Michigan taxpayers an estimated $202 million annually in funds that would be necessary if these children were enrolled in public schools, and that therefore Michigan citizens should be made aware of the fact that the non-public schools are having a revenue crisis, or, in plain words, are short of money.
The Roman Catholic representative is reported as pointing to a downward trend in Michigan’s non-public school enrollment. He claimed that there was a decrease of 10 per cent over the past three years, from 360,000 to 330,000. No break-down was given in these figures as to where the decrease has been occurring,—in the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, or the Christian schools. In connection with the rising costs of education generally, this gentleman pointed to the fact that private schools are being forced to spend much more money to educate fewer children.
The Christian schools representative argued that state assistance of non-public schools actually would save Michigan taxpayers much more than it would cost because it would “prevent many of our schools—especially those in the inner-city—from closing.”
Surprisingly enough, no mention is made in this particular news item of a much over-worked argument that because we contribute in our taxes, we are also entitled to receive tax monies to support our schools.
Now it is not my purpose to stick my nose in the business of the schools of other groups. What they do is up to them.
I am interested in this subject, however, with a view to our own schools and because the question arises occasionally as to what should be our attitude on the subject of state aid.
And then, first of all, I would issue a word of caution against pragmatic, or utilitarian, arguments. We are all aware, I think, of the fact that the costs of education are rising; this is inevitable when the cost of living and the standard of living generally are rising. I think it is also true to some degree that our schools feel the pinch of these increasing costs. Mark you well, I do not speak of a financial crisis; I am not convinced that there is such. But there is the necessity of adjusting our school budgets from time to time in harmony with rising costs and the rising standard of living. And, inevitably, the parents who support our schools also feel this pinch to one degree or another. And the temptation may sometimes be strong to convince ourselves that we face a financial crisis, an impasse, and even a crisis which involves the very existence of our schools if we must continue to support them by ourselves, and thus to look about for other, easy sources of revenue. And then, by means of utilitarian arguments we can convince ourselves that it is right to seek and to accept financial aid from the government, whether state or federal. And after we have convinced ourselves by means of practical and utilitarian arguments, we either ignore our principles or adjust them to make them fit. This is never right. We must be men of principle first and always, and adjust our practice to coincide with our principles.
Secondly, I believe that it is principally wrong to seek and to accept government support for our schools. I believe that it is contrary to the very principle of parental education, one of the foundation-stones of our educational view. That principle is that before God it is the calling and privilege of covenant parents to train their covenant children in the fear of the Lord. If, as is the case, that training cannot be provided directly in the home; then the parents remain responsible for that training; and, banding together in a school society, they make provision for the academic training of their children by hired teachers and in a school. Now as surely as this is the calling and privilege of covenant parents, so surely it is also their calling and privilege,—call it responsibility, if you will,—to maintain these schools financially. No more than covenant parents have the right to shrug off the responsibility for training their children, no more do they have the right to shrug off the responsibility forproviding financially for this training. In other words, we are obligated before God to pay for our own. And although, generally speaking, it is very easy to be swept along with the current of the times in these days of the welfare state and the handout, we do well to keep this principle clearly in view and to stick to it,—simply because it is right.
But there is another side to this same principle. That is that it is not the business of the government to educate. It is the calling of the government to govern and to wield the sword, not to educate my children or the world’s children. In fact, although this is not my point particularly now, all the friction about religion in the public schools can be traced to the government’s meddling in the business of education, which is not its business. I arn well aware of the fact that we Reformed Christians, being in the minority, cannot reverse the trend and get the government out of the business of education. But this does not change the principle. And this does not mean that we must tacitly concede that the government may assume the task of education by accepting support for our schools. We must continue to say to the government, in effect: “None of your business! Education is not your calling! And therefore I will not look to you either to educate or to help provide for the education of my children.”
And this brings me to a third and frequently mentioned point. It is this: government support inevitably leads to government control. Do not be too certain that this is merely a practical argument. It is this, and it is abundantly proven in history, not only in the area of education but also in other areas. When the government, either federal or state, gives a handout, it always wants, and gets, some say-so at the same time. It is able to do this because of the power of the purse-strings. But you see, behind this lies the fact that you have already conceded the principle that the government may meddle in education. It will hardly do, when once you have conceded this, to say, “You may pay, but you may not say.”
I need hardly add a fourth point, namely, that the argument that government support of non-public schools would save the tax-payers money is patently specious. It is well known that when we first pay out our tax monies to the government, in order then to get those same monies back in the form of handouts, the result is never savings, but losses. Somehow when these monies pass through the devious processes of government bureaucracy, they are always depleted before they reach the recipients.
A word or two in conclusion. I am disturbed when I hear talk of financial crisis and even of the impossibility of maintaining covenant schools. One reason is that I wonder whether we really know what financial crisis is. I am not denying that some of our parents may have a considerable task in paying the costs of educating a family of several children; and I am in sympathy with them. But when I think back to the times when the tuition-rate at the Christian School which I attended in my childhood was $2 per week, per family (mind you, not per child!); and when I think back to the sacrifices which many of our parents made in the days of the Great Depression to keep their children in the Christian School; and when I think back to the time when the Christian School Benevolent Association was formed in First Church in order to gather, not dollars, but the pennies and nickels and dimes which might ordinarily be spent for a piece of candy or an ice cream cone or a Whaleback Cigar,—then I am inclined to think that we of today’s “affluent society” do not really know by experience what it is to face a revenue crisis. And my second reason is that covenant education for covenant children may not be a question, but must be viewed as a sacred must. Proceeding from that principle, we must and shall sacrifice if necessary and as necessary, putting first things first.