Church and State Can Unite on Education
Churches must lead children’s education and should be supported by the state.
The decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is unequivocally the main event of the recent SCOTUS decisions for the pro-family right, but those who hope to create a policy agenda that empowers parents shouldn’t neglect the undercard.
In particular, they should pay attention to last month’s SCOTUS decision in Carson v. Makin, which confirmed by a 6-3 vote that religious organizations have the right to participate in private educational choice programs–programs through which parents use state funding to send their kids wherever they want. Although the ruling could continue to shift the educational landscape in favor of parents, it has not received much attention from those who support pro-family public policies.
Students miss out on learning opportunities that religious school choices should be promoting. This can be changed by the SCOTUS decision. It won’t happen unless state policymakers get up and do something about it.
Luckily, only a few weeks ago, Arizona set up a blueprint for other states to follow, creating the country’s most comprehensive education choice program. The bill, which goes into effect in September of 2022, will allow Arizonan students to use 90 percent of their taxpayer-funded state education dollars–around $7,000–to finance the best education environment for them outside the public schools system. Some understandably worry a government-administered program will bring regulations that hamper a school’s quality, but Arizona’s empowerment scholarship account (ESA) statute addresses this concern by specifying the state has no authority to change a school’s practices even if it accepts a student’s taxpayer-funded education dollars.
According to data, educational choice programs are linked with several benefits, including better student test scores, civic literacy, educational attainment, and perceived safety, all while encouraging constructive competition and specialization. These benefits are primarily due to the fact that education choice is a pro-family policy. The primary reason education choice is so beneficial to parents and not to the system is that it allows them to choose what educational environment best suits their child. This makes education an individual affair.
But there’s more. A new study shows that choosing a school can make for better marriages. Authored by the University of Arkansas’s Patrick Wolf, the American Enterprise Institute’s Albert Cheng, and the University of Virginia’s Brad Wilcox, the study finds that private “religious schooling is associated with higher rates of stable marriage, lower rates of divorce, and lower rates of births outside of marriage.”
Many students are unable to afford private religious education, especially those with lower incomes. Although states haven’t created enough comprehensive education options programs to enable every family to pay tuition at private religious schools, they should.
We should see more states following Arizona’s example. They might be able to revitalize the religious school market if they do. This could address another reason why families can’t attend religious school privates: they don’t have enough.
While many schools of religion exist, giving parents the power to choose where their children will attend school could help increase both demand and supply. It should not be difficult for churches to ease the financial burden and provide more quality education opportunities for their congregations and communities’ children through empowerment scholarship accounts.
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Already thousands of parents have entrusted churches with teaching their children religion through Sunday school. Why shouldn’t they be encouraged and allowed to allow churches to also teach other subjects if it is the most educationally beneficial for their child. Many Sunday school churches already have the necessary infrastructure to provide a unique educational setting, such as a learning pod or hybrid homeschool.
Arizona has enacted a new law that allows churches to take advantage of the educational choice space to expand their teaching and offer more subjects to their community and nation. Every day, new private school option programs are created that congregants and churches can take part in. The Supreme Court’s decision Carson also allows them to participate in education with the support of their legislators.
States, churches and religious organizations have a great opportunity to assist students and families in obtaining an education that empowers their potential. This is a great opportunity for churches and states to take advantage of it so every child and family, regardless of their backgrounds, can exercise their rights and pursue happiness.