Parochiaid Revived—In Disguise!

Last time we began to consider the proposal for a referendum in Michigan which would submit to the voters a constitutional amendment providing for a so-called “voucher system” of paying for education. This would include the children of all parents; and these vouchers, which would be provided to the parents, could be used at both private and public schools. We saw, too, that this proposal is under the guise of an alleged more sensible method of financing education: it would get rid of the real estate tax as a means of paying for general education costs, and substitute some other method of taxation (probably increased income taxes) which would be up to the state legislature. 

The elements mentioned above—and criticized in our previous editorial—constitute parts of the disguise of this parochiaid proposal. In the first place, the voucher system constitutes an indirect method of state support of private schools. In the second place, the elimination of the local tax millage, while it does by no means guarantee a more sensible method of financing, nevertheless does enable this parochiaid proposal toparade as a tax-reform proposal. 

The next section of the informational bulletin addresses the parochiaid issue directly. It is entitled “Non-Public School Student Participation.” Under this heading we find the following questions and answers:

15. Q.—Isn’t this just another attempt to get Parochiaid approved and implemented?

A.—No. This proposal presents a complete reform of the system of financing all education K-12, not merely of the dispersal of funds. This concept would consider the educational needs of each child individually, without consideration for religious or economic circumstances. It would give the same right of choice to allparents. 

16. Q.—Is this proposal constitutional? 

A.—It is impossible to predict what the U.S. Supreme Court, or the Michigan Supreme Court, will do, especially in cases that involve the religious freedom rights of parents in the education of their children. But it appears that this voucher proposal, as designed, would be general legislation benefiting all children in all schools, and would meet the accepted criteria of constitutionality which the Court has previously laid down in many different cases. 

17. Q.—Would parochial schools be able to maintain their standard admission requirements and their own religious philosophy under the voucher system? 

A.—Yes. Civil rights laws allow such schools to restrict enrollment to “own religion only” status and states have no jurisdiction in this regard. In addition, civil rights laws could be more strictly enforced, preventing the maintenance of racially segregated schools by imposing sanctions upon voucher reimbursement.

Now it should be perfectly obvious to any reader that Question and Answer 15 are dishonest, and deceptively so. The answer to this question is not No, but Yes. If I am having meat and potatoes for dinner, and someone asks me, “Are you having meat for dinner?” I do not answer, “No,” but, “Yes, and I am also having potatoes.” So here the answer should be, “yes, and it is paired with a proposal to reform the system of financing all education, K-12.” Not only so, but there is evidence that parochiaid is one of themain elements of the proposal. Furthermore, according to information which I have received from the office of Citizens For More Sensible Financing Of Education, “some of the Board members are also members of the Michigan Association of Non-Public, Schools.” In fact, no fewer than seven of the total Board membership of sixteen are in some way directly connected with non-public schools. Of the other nine it is impossible to tell from the information furnished whether they have any such connection. Now you may depend on it that such people as Dr. Philip Elve (National Union of Christian Schools), who also recently plugged this proposal in The Banner, and Sister Maryellen Harmon (Archdiocesan Office of Education, Detroit) and Supt. Donald L. Kell (Lutheran Schools of Mich.-Missouri Synod) and other such private and parochial school personnel have their eye chiefly on this one element of the proposal: parochiaid. It was outlawed once before in Michigan. But they are determined, in one way or another, to win the day for parochiaid! Beware of them! 

But there is a fundamental fallacy also in Answer 15. The last sentence states: “It would give the same right of choice to all parents.” This is a myth which has long been promoted by parochiaid pushers. The simple fact is, however, that parochiaid as such has nothing to do with rights. It has nothing to do with equal rights. Parochiaid, whether in this form or any other, has to do with money. And this voucher proposal apparently has to do with equal money. We already have the rights. All parents have the same right to choose whether to send their children to a public school or a non-public school. That right is already guaranteed by law. Parochiaid proponents should quit talking about rights and should frankly admit that they are interested in somehow obtaining state funds for private schools. 

In the third place, it should be pointed out that a proposal such as this will mean that, in effect, we Protestant Reformed parents will be helping to pay for Roman Catholic schools, for Lutheran schools, for non-religious private schools, and for any others who choose to come under the voucher system. 

In the fourth place, the grave danger of all parochiaid, of whatever form, is not avoided by this proposal. The assurances of Question and Answer 17 are insufficient to quiet fears in this regard. The simple fact is—and history shows this to be increasingly true in every sphere in our country—that what the government pays for the government controls. And it is easy to see how the state simply by holding over our heads the club of threatened withdrawal of voucher funds or voucher eligibility could exercise control over schools and parents. In this regard we should not be lulled to sleep by allusions to civil rights laws and constitutional guarantees. Do not be deceived into thinking that the government(s) in our land have fundamentally a benign and generous attitude toward the cause of Christ, and that they will be more than happy to lend support to genuinely covenantal and antithetical education. Nor must we dream that the public school forces will be happy to see Christian schools placed on an even footing financially. The contrary is true. Another campaign for parochiaid will only serve to arouse the ire of the public school forces and to move them to seek the destruction of the Christian school movement, as they have before. 

In the fifth place, while I certainly do not pretend to be any kind of expert on constitutional law, it seems to me that a child can understand that this is unconstitutional. Article VIII, Section 2 of the Michigan Constitution is pertinent here, and is one of the articles which this referendum purposes to amend. The first paragraph requires the legislature to maintain a system of free public schools without discrimination. The second paragraph now reads as follows:

No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shah be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student or the employment of any person at any such nonpublic school or at any location or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such nonpublic school students. The legislature may provide for the transportation of students to and from any school. (italics added)

In the proposed amendment the italicized words above (“tuition voucher”) will be eliminated. Then the last sentence will be made to read as follows:

The legislature may provide for the transportation of students to and from any school, and notwithstanding any other provision of this constitution, the legislature shall provide for the issuance of an educational voucher to each child in attendance at public and nonpublic elementary and secondary schools to be applied toward the cost of that child’s education in the school of his or her parent’s or guardian’s choice.

Notice that twice the words “directly or indirectly” occur in this article, and that it is plainly the emphatic intention of the constitution to prohibit any kind of state financial support of nonpublic schools. The proposed amendment clearly seeks to avoid a formal contradiction by the words “notwithstanding any other provision of this constitution.” Nevertheless, the contradiction of the intent of Article VIII is obvious. An “educational voucher” (the same as a “tuition voucher”) is an indirect way of paying public monies to maintain a private, denominational, or other nonpublic school. And it is a direct way of supporting the attendance of a student at a nonpublic school. For according to the brochure from which we have quoted our information, “A voucher is a certificate representing a sum of money issued by the state to parents for the education of their children.” 

How any court of law could wink at this obvious attempt to circumvent the plain intent of the constitution is beyond me. 

There are a few more questions and answers in the brochure, but they are of no importance with respect to the parochiaid issue. We will not discuss them. 

Our advice is: 

1. Do not sign the petition for a referendum if you are approached. If the whole proposal can be kept off the ballot, so much the better! 

2. If the proposal appears on the ballot, be sure to vote against it! 

3. If you get the opportunity, speak up against the proposal and warn other Christian school supporters of its dangers. It is nothing but an attempt to revive the same old parochiaid—but in disguise!