School Choice & Government Support
Education is an important issue for me, so please excuse my verbosity. As private citizens, my wife and I made the decision to homeschool both of our children at our expense, yet still paid property taxes that helped fund a school system we didn’t use. Should the government support our efforts, as taxpayers and citizens? Should that support include vouchers or tax breaks to offset the cost of educating our children? And what of parents who want to send their children to religious schools, yet still pay taxes to support the public schools they aren’t using? Should parents have a greater role in the education of their children? For Christian parents—but we could apply this to any other religious parents—this is a tough question. Since I am a Christian, I'll offer a Christian view.
This is the proverbial double-edged sword. The Bible gives parents clear mandates to teach their children (Proverbs 22:6) and that beginning of wisdom is the fear of God (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10, Psalm 111:10). There is no specific mention of what we know as the 3 R’s. Education in the Bible was different than the traditional classroom. That is not to say that such training was never given—as Moses was trained in all the ways of Egypt (Acts 7:22)—we just don’t find a specific outline that resembles our present school experience.
The Puritans established the first schools in America with the Massachusetts General School Law of 1647—affectionately known as “That old deluder Satan Act.” Its purpose was to ensure that everyone could read and, thus, study the scriptures. Taxes were even compelled to fund these schools and teachers; these were, indeed, publicly funded schools. There is, in addition to scriptural exhortation to teach children, religious people injected that exhortation into the civil government as well. Of course, that has progressed to today to include all that we find in the present curriculum.
Hostility toward religious expression in public schools over the last half century—in the last quarter century in particular—has spawned the homeschool movement. God-fearing people were concerned that public schools were undermining the religious values parents were trying to instill at home. The Supreme Court has ruled that parents have a Constitutional right to direct the upbringing of their children (Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925); Meyer v. Nebraska (1923); Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)). Noted philosopher John Locke also believed that parents had the primary right and duty to educate their children (Tuckness, 2010).
Does this history require taxpayer funded vouchers to offset the cost? Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman opined that the government should offer each family a voucher to do with as they please, so long as it “approved” educational services. I disagree with Friedman for two reasons: 1) there are always strings attached to government money and 2) tax payers should not be paying for the individual preferences of my conscience—that is my responsibility. If I want to school my children at home, to give them a religious foundation to learning, I should be willing to absorb the burden of doing so myself. That is liberty. The government’s job is to encourage my freedom. How I exercise it is my responsibility. I welcome any comments.
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