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What rights to set their own curriculum do parochial schools give up when they accept students on government voucher programs? I just got an email from CatholicVote.com claiming that President Trump and Congress were going to do something to make school choice possible across the entire nation.

It quotes the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops taking this position:

“Parents—the first and most important educators—have a fundamental right to choose the education best suited to the needs of their children, including public, private, and religious schools. Government, through such means as tax credits and publicly funded scholarships, should help provide resources for parents, especially those of modest means, to exercise this basic right without discrimination.”

But that seems like a open invitation for government overreach in the name of putting kids in seats at schools with dwindling enrollments. Also the Homeschool Legal Defense Association has fought against vouchers for homeschoolers claiming that it would constitute intrusion into homeschooling families.

There have been various programs, with various names, designed for the purpose of using public funds to pay for all or part of the costs of students’ tuition at private or religious schools. Those in support of vouchers say they increase “school choice” or “parent choice.” HSLDA opposes vouchers as they are not a free hand-out from the government and will regulate parental freedoms. To date, no national voucher system has been established, nor is a state voucher system available to homeschools.

HSLDA website

So, is any side considering religious liberty protections in the whole school choice debate? Because it me it seems like a fight between people who thing school choice is a good thing because it sticks it to the public education system and people who think school choice is a bad thing because it feels like it violates the establishment clause of the 1st amendment.

  • @david good catch, I was going to use the word "debate" twice in that sentence, I deleted the first instance of it leaving a meaningless garble. – Peter Turner Mar 2 '17 at 20:22
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    "because it feels like it violates the establishment clause of the 1st amendment" - unless the vouchers are limited to specific religion; OR are mandatory for anyone who homeschools (meaning you have to get a voucher which means you have to follow accompanying regulations); how in the world is it even remotely related to "establishment of religion"? – user4012 Mar 2 '17 at 20:57
  • @user4012 I'm not the one making that argument, that's just what I hear on public radio. – Peter Turner Mar 2 '17 at 20:59
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    The discussions so far have been limited to parents getting vouchers to help pay tuition, but have not mentioned the government requiring any specific classes or types of classes. It is far too early to know what will be proposed. – sabbahillel Mar 2 '17 at 21:03
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    I don't think this is at all answerable as it's speculating what may or may not be proposed and what may or may not actually get implemented if the voucher system happens. – user1530 Mar 2 '17 at 21:10
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At present no such mandate about curriculum exists, nor would such a mandate be politically popular. Several voucher programs (like the DC Opportunity scholarship) have run, or been run, and none have imposed any restrictions on the schools accepting enrolees.

The concerns stem from how the US government has treated other similar programs. The one that comes to mind is Title IX, where the Federal government set up funding that most US public schools, colleges and universities accept. Specifically this portion

Title IX also has the potential to apply to an entire school, or institution, that receives federal financial assistance.

Ostensibly, Title IX simply mandates equal treatment of genders in facilities and programs. The scope, however, has been expanded to other areas. Most recently, the Obama administration used Title IX to create two sets of regulations. The first was significant changes to how colleges and universities approch sexual assault

On April 4, 2011, the same day that President Obama formally announced his reelection bid, his Education Department, with no advance notice, reinterpreted Title IX as giving the federal government authority to dictate the specific procedures that colleges must use to adjudicate student-on-student sexual assault allegations.

This “Dear Colleague” letter, issued by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), told all of the more than 7,000 colleges that receive federal money to use the lowest possible standard of proof, a preponderance of evidence, in sexual assault cases (though not in less serious matters such as cheating and noise violations). The letter required universities to allow accusers to appeal not-guilty findings, a form of double jeopardy. It further told schools to accelerate their adjudications, with a recommended 60-day limit. And, perhaps most important, OCR strongly discouraged cross-examination of accusers, given the procedures that most universities employed.

The second was the transgendered student policy

To top it off, on May 13th the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (O.C.R.) and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division issued a Dear Colleague letter announcing to the nation’s schools that, under Title IX—the 1972 law banning sex discrimination by schools that receive federal funding—transgender students must be allowed to use rest rooms that are “consistent with their gender identity.” The threat was clear: schools that failed to comply could lose federal funding. Protests of federal overreach immediately ensued, including from parents citing safety and privacy as reasons for children and teen-agers to share bathrooms and locker rooms only with students of the same biological sex.

Ignoring the controversies over each, the concern of HSLDA and other like-minded people, is that once a school accepts these funds, they will eventually be subjected to a "scope creep", where new regulations are drafted to keep these funds going.

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