More Voucher Students Are Attending Religious Schools -- and Taxpayers Are Footing the Bill

The number of students using vouchers to attend private schools in the Oshkosh, Wisc., area grew rapidly in the past year, showing once again that so-called “school choice” schemes are frequently little more than a taxpayer-funded bailout for religious schools.

As reported by the Oshkosh Northwestern, 78 more students in that area received vouchers in 2013-2014 than did the previous year – a whopping 62.5 percent increase. While the story does not say exactly how many of those new vouchers are currently used at religious schools, at least 15 are being used to attend Valley Christian School.

That’s on top of the 48 vouchers that are still in use from the previous year, all of which went toward tuition at two sectarian institutions – Valley Christian and Lourdes Academy.

This influx of voucher money is thanks to an additional 500 vouchers available this year through the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. The 500 vouchers were divided up randomly between 26 schools around the state, the Northwestern said.

As if it were not bad enough that so much taxpayer money is flowing directly to sectarian groups, the Northwestern reported that out of 2,834 eligible students who applied for vouchers statewide, 75 percent already attended a private school. This was the case at Valley Christian, where approximately three-quarters of the school’s 35 voucher students were already going there before they got money from the state.

Sadly this is par for the course in Wisconsin, which has had a voucher plan since the early 1990s. At first the scheme was limited to secular private schools in the city of Milwaukee, but it has since expanded to include religious schools statewide.

As a result, plenty of struggling religious schools have been able to keep their doors open – all on the taxpayer dime. This includes Milwaukee’s Salem Evangelical Lutheran School, which was on the verge of closing due to low enrollment when, lo and behold, a miraculous infusion of taxpayer money gave the school new life.

“This is an outreach,” Principal Steven Carlovsky told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2012. “We’re bringing the Gospel.”

Unfortunately that gospel is now paid for by the public.  

This pretty well debunks the idea that vouchers do not raise constitutional concerns – it’s blatantly clear that Wisconsin’s taxpayers are being forced to support religious indoctrination.

It’s also apparent that “school choice” advocates are wrong when they claim voucher programs allow parents to remove their kids from struggling public schools and enroll them in private schools. At least in Wisconsin, 75 percent of voucher students were already attending private schools before they received vouchers through the Parental Choice Program. Those parents had already made their choice – without government assistance. Now they’re getting paid by taxpayers to do something they would have done anyway.  

Most Americans don’t want to see their tax dollars handed out like Halloween candy to sectarian schools. But that’s exactly what Wisconsin has been doing for decades. It’s time to end this subsidy of religious schools and use that voucher money to give Wisconsin’s citizens what they deserve – a great public school system.

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