The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
In this age of intersecting social justice imperatives -- when advocates are looking for important overlaps between traditionally defined policy areas -- it's important to remember one key issue that has serious repercussions for both our public school system and the separation of church and state: vouchers.
Vouchers (and some private school tax credits), known to some as "school choice" efforts, essentially take money away from public schools and funnel it towards private, often parochial schools. The public schools system epitomizes the American values of opportunity and equality, and the Jewish people have historically been major supporters of our public school system in keeping with the values laid out by Maimonides who wrote that "any city that does not have a school in it shall be cut off [all contact] until they find a teacher for the children" (Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:1).
And, from our Founding, the United States has been a beacon of church state separation and religious freedom. Vouchers compromise those values by challenging the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which is broadly understood to mean 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, they become an indirect government funding of sectarian institutions. The Jewish people
Only in America have Jews been free to pursue our faith and to organize our communal lives, equal under law and in practice, without government interference. Thus America — through its Constitution — created a system of religious liberty that has proved to be generally fair and effective, one that Jews wish to preserve. Jews have learned, through history that both religion and the state flourish best when they are separate. When there is legislation in Congress that threatens this critical separation, we worry.
Earlier this year, two voucher bills were introduced in Congress: The Scholarships for Kids Act (S. 1968/H.R. 4000) would turn 63% of federal education funding into private school vouchers by obliterating Title I funding, which supports struggling and low-income school districts. The Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act (S. 1909/H.R. 4773) or the “CHOICE Act” would redirect Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds to private school vouchers, create vouchers for students from military families, and expand the D.C. voucher program.
Together, these two bills together would turn a significant amount of federal education funds into vouchers, obliterating the public school system, and endangering church-state separation.
This legislation imperils two important social justice issues in one fell swoop. Take action and urge your Members of Congress to oppose these bills!
Learn more about the RAC's work on behalf of the Reform Movement opposing school vouchers.