August 20, 2014 · 24 Av

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School Vouchers and Jewish Values
Learn more about what Judaism teaches us about this issue and why the Reform Movement opposes school vouchers


Although all American Jewish groups value education, the issue of vouchers is divisive for the Jewish community: the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism generally oppose vouchers, while the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America traditionally supports them. The Orthodox movement is a proponent of vouchers because, through such programs, yeshivot and Jewish day schools gain government funding, a much-needed resource. About 90 percent of American Jews belong to the Reform and Conservative Movements, both of which oppose vouchers.

The Reform movement opposes vouchers for the following reasons:

  • Vouchers Threaten the First Amendment's Guarantee of Religious Liberty. Any program that permits religious schools to receive public funds is poor public policy and certainly invites legal challenges. A central principle of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause is that members of particular faiths, and not the government, should fund religious institutions. Government funding for religious education undermines the First Amendment and harms religious liberty. When vouchers are used towards expenses related to religious school education (exactly why the Orthodox support vouchers), they become an indirect government funding of sectarian institutions.
  • The Government Could Exert More Control over Religious Institutions. Since the government has a right, in fact an obligation, to demand that the institutions which it funds meet certain requirements or standards, strings are attached to government money. Religious schools stand to lose their autonomy in areas of single-sex education, hiring procedures, and curriculum decisions. Such control would not be beneficial for either religious organizations or the government.
  • Voucher Funding is a Small Bandage Over a Large Wound. Voucher programs divert desperately needed resources away from the public school system and help only a few of the nation's children. The rising popularity of the voucher concept is indicative more of a need for some dramatic change and improvement in the public school system, the government should be investing its funds in programs that reinvigorate the public school system and return the system to its role as the heart of American identity-formation.
  • Vouchers Do Not Guarantee School Choice. Vouchers do not guarantee a student any type of school choice. Rather, they contribute to the monetary means of a family to send their child to a private school if that school accepts the child. Every child counts, yet vouchers only raise the hopes of a select few. Vouchers offer private schools a greater choice than they do the students. Many students will still be ineligible to attend many of the private schools because of the schools' exclusive admission policies. We should work to improve our public schools -- make them safer, stronger, more accountable schools.
  • Public Schools are the Heart of American Identity. All of America's children deserve a first-rate education. Open and non-discriminatory in their acceptance of students, the American public schools are a significant unifying factor among the diverse range of ethnic and religious communities in our society. Vouchers would undermine this vital function. Parents are turning to private schools as alternatives to public schools because of the diminishing quality of education and learning.
  • Jewish Education is Important, But Government Funding is Inappropriate and Illegal. All American Jewish groups value Jewish education as a significant strategic factor in the raising of children with strong Jewish identities. In the long-term, it is the interest of American Jews to widen access to Jewish educational programs. Vouchers, however, are not the means by which to achieve greater degrees of Jewish education. Since vouchers would amount to government funding of Jewish day schools, the government would be able to increase its control over what has previously been the sole domain of religious institutions. What we need instead is greater Jewish investment in Jewish educational institutions. Within our community, we have the resources. We simply need to refocus and redirect them.


The Union for Reform Judaism opposes all attempts to channel public funds to private and parochial schools. In a 1961 resolution, the Union resolved: "The devotion of our Union to the separation of religion and state, and our equally deep commitment to public education as a cornerstone of the American democratic process, impel us at this 46th Biennial assembly to reaffirm our opposition to any form of governmental aid to elementary and secondary schools under the supervision or control of any religious denomination or sect -- Catholic, Protestant or Jewish."

In 1972 the Reform Movement passed a resolution opposing "using public funds for non-public elementary and secondary schools, believing that such aid would infringe the separation of church and state and have damaging impact on public schools."


Other Resolutions

WRJ

Resolution on School Vouchers (1999)



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