Creationism, The Left’s Weapon Against School Choice
Should taxpayers be compelled to fund schools that teach concepts that support junk science or violate their convictions?
The growing popularity of programs aimed at giving students in public schools expanded access to private education has led to exaggerated fears of such an outcome.
Politico Senior Education Reporter Stephanie Simon sounded the alarm with these words: “Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies.” Critics who oppose vouchers and education savings accounts on these grounds are correct in arguing that they compel some taxpayers to support material they may find objectionable. However, they are not the first to make this claim.
For as long as anyone can remember, there have been disagreements about what is being taught in public schools. This happens because individuals are compelled to send their children to schools – public or private – and because they are compelled to support public education through their tax dollars. As a result, individuals with different values and beliefs may be forced into the same system. When parents disagree with their child’s public school they can pay for private school tuition, accept the school’s actions, or seize control and make the school change its position. In all three of these scenarios, some people are being compelled to fund a school that teaches material with which they disagree.
There is simply no getting around the fact that someone’s beliefs or conscience will be compromised in the levying of taxes to support education.
When it comes to tax credit scholarships, however, Simon and others who lump them with vouchers are wrong. Tax credit scholarships do not compel individual taxpayers to fund or support schools they may find objectionable. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that opponents of Arizona’s tax credit scholarship program did not have standing because tax credits are not government spending. Tax credit scholarships are funded through individual and corporate donations. The individual is not compelled to donate their money, they choose to do so. The donations never enter the government treasury and the funds are not distributed by a government agency. Other than an all-out private system, where everyone pays for their own child’s education, this is about as close as we can come to a system that does not compel individuals to subsidize schools to which they object.
The distinction between tax credit scholarships and other private school choice programs is an important one, but is somewhat beside the point. The fact remains that it is impossible to create a school that is perfectly neutral when it comes to every person’s beliefs, values, and convictions. Therefore, those who oppose private school choice for this reason are implicitly saying that their rights are more important than others who object to content in public schools, but are compelled to support them.
When the district where I taught banned Slaughterhouse-Five and Twenty Boy Summer, few on the left applauded the district for acquiescing to a parent’s wishes. They deemed the district backwards and lampooned the individual who led the effort to ban the books. I doubt Politico’s Simon or other opponents of private school choice programs have a problem with Philadelphia’s decision to include A People’s History of the United States—a highly controversial book written by known socialist Howard Zinn – in the public school curriculum. Indeed, the left applauds when public schools treat Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” as bible.
Hundreds of other examples of conflicts that have arisen in public schools can be found on the Cato Institute’s Public School Battle Map.
Politico’s Simon and others opposed to private school choice are not interested in ensuring that all citizens are not compelled to fund schools that violate their beliefs. They are perfectly fine when politically correct, left-wing thinking is perpetuated in public schools. They simply are attempting to use creationism as a cudgel to prevent parents from having the opportunity to choose a school that aligns to their personal values and beliefs. It is an effort to enforce a left/liberal orthodoxy.
James V. Shuls, Ph.D., is the director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy.