The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

What do you think about school vouchers?

I'm taking a class from the Jesuit school called "Religion and Politics in the United States" and it is way awesome, as you might imagine. Every week, I want to write about what happened but I'm like so fired up and so I just speak to people about it in real life. I just remembered, that, in real life, I spoke to Anne about class last week and told her I'd write about it, too. So here we are!

In class, we talked about how the first amendment establishes freedom of and from religion. A major subject of this week's conversation was education, particularly school vouchers. For those of you not familiar, vouchers are part of a system where the government gives parents money to send their kids to a private school that they would not be able to afford otherwise, in order to provide their child with the best education available.

There are so many sides to this story, but mine starts with being pro-public school. I freely admit that I grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood and went to great public schools because they were funded by upper-middle-class tax dollars and upper-middle-class PTAs, etc. So I recognize that I come from an ideal public school situation. But it is my goal, then, that all public schools could be like my public schools. Instead, many public schools struggle to pay teachers, keep class sizes reasonable, give students proper attention, and the myriad other things it takes to run a school with successful students.

For the most part, private education in this country is also parochial education. Many people want to send their children to school in their family's religious tradition. The Catholic Church has been most successful at this model. And, of course, not all students at religious schools are practitioners of that religion.

The problem that I have with school vouchers is that they overwhelmingly go to support parochial schools. To me, this is a direct violation of the establishment clause. Though, certainly, the vouchers are accepted at secular private schools, most kids end up in religious institutions. Secular private schools tend to be more exclusive and more expensive. If a family is already receiving a voucher to send their child to private school, it's unlikely they're able to cushion it with so much of their own money to attend an expensive secular school.

The point is, most kids who go to school on vouchers go to parochial schools. I think this is wrong.

But! When I spoke to Anne, as a teacher, she reminded me that the best thing you can do for students to send them to school where they will be successful. If they will not be successful in public school, they shouldn't be forced to fail there. If being at a religious institution will help them graduate and become who they want to be when they grow up, we ought to make sure that's what they get.

So I'm torn! Because I want to give every child what she needs in order to be successful. But I don't want kids to be at parochial schools unnecessarily, and certainly not on the taxpayers' dime.

Admittedly, I went to a religious college. But I see a huge difference from religious primary and secondary education to religious higher education. Daniel and I were talking about this during the week sometime, and we agreed that the ELCA is really into colleges -- they're all over the midwest! -- but not so much with the elementary and high schools. We don't even know if there are any. (LCMS is all over it, but that's far from the point.) We decided that the reason for this is that the ELCA is in to fostering religious education, certainly -- but once you're able to choose that exploration for yourself. We're not about indoctrination. And you may argue that Catholic schools are not about indoctrination! And maybe, on paper, they aren't. But how many of your parents have Catholic school horror stories?

Anyway, the point of this is really just to pose the question to you. Should the federal or state government give money to parents to send their kids to private schools?

Not football.

Nail polish, sort of.