Taxation With Plenty of Vexation

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa sought to open the nation’s first religious public charter school, but in late June, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in a 6-2 decision that the state’s Constitution prohibits the Catholic Church from operating a charter school. The proposed St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School would have been funded with taxpayer dollars and included Catholic teaching as part of its curriculum, along with standard educational lessons.

Before the decision, there was much dissension. Oklahoma law says charter schools must be nonsectarian, and the state attorney general, Republican Gentner Drummond, filed suit against the board that approved St. Isidore, saying, “This cannot be consistent with the separation of church and state.”

Even charter advocates like the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which supports the agencies that approve and oversee charter schools, opposed the charter.

On the other hand, Phil Sechler, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group, asserts that charter schools aren’t government actors but rather “private contractors.” Sechler maintains that, as private entities, they should have the same ability to apply for a charter as a secular group.

On a similar note, billions of taxpayer dollars go to private schools—including religious ones—in the form of vouchers and other private school programs. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue. In Espinoza v. Montana (2020), SCOTUS endorsed a state tax credit program that pays for students to attend religious schools.

Also, the Supreme Court’s Carson v. Makin decision in 2022 revolved around Maine’s town tuition law, which allows parents living in districts that do not own and operate elementary or secondary schools to send their children to public or private schools in other areas of the state, or even outside the state, using funds provided by the child’s home district. SCOTUS ruled that if a state subsidizes private education, it cannot disqualify religious schools.

It’s important to note that “public schools” in the United States have traditionally been religious. The public school movement was started to instill Protestant values in our nation’s youth. Catholics, Jews, and others had to pay extra for schools that reflected their religious ideals.

Government schools are still religious, but now the dominant belief system in many of them is leftism or cultural Marxism. Many of its practitioners approach Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Critical Race Theory (CRT) with devotional zealotry.

A survey by Californians for Equal Rights, which examined 350 school districts across the state, found that almost 90% of them promote DEI and its cousins, CRT and Critical Ethnic Studies (CES), to varying degrees, with 23% “engaging in omnipresent indoctrination in curriculum, policy, expenditure, and personnel.”

Also, if it’s wrong for taxpayers to support Catholic schools, why should a Jew have his tax dollars go to support anti-Semitism? Syre Elementary School, a highly-ranked public school in Shoreline, WA, teaches children as young as seven years old to chant “Free Palestine” and “From the River to the Sea” and instructs them to hold mock anti-Israel protests. Oakland Unified School District faces a federal investigation after 30 Jewish families removed their kids from school due to rampant Jew-hatred.

Additionally, Satan may be making an appearance at your public school! The Satanic Temple plans to make its Hellion Academy of Independent Learning available to students. In 2019, the IRS granted the temple tax-exempt status, just like any other church. Its website states, “The Satanic Temple is pleased to introduce the Hellions Academy of Independent Learning (HAIL), a program for students that allows them to learn about values such as empathy, compassion, and justice in a fun environment without religious pressure or coercion. HAIL was created as an alternative to Christian Release Time Religious Instruction (RTRI) programs that have been on the rise in public schools around the U.S. Christian RTRI programs shuttle students off-campus on weekly field trips where the programs push Bible-based instruction.”

Public education in America is big business. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, total expenditures for government-run elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. were $927 billion in 2020–21 (in constant 2022–23 dollars). U.S. taxpayers also forked over $702 billion to postsecondary institutions in 2020–21, about $253 billion of which went to private institutions. In fact, there are only 23 colleges in the country that refuse any public funding.

Hence, the difference between public and private education in the U.S. is murky, to say the least.But no matter how you view charter schools or private choice programs, they exist because American taxpayers are footing the bill.

The best way forward is to get the government out of education entirely. Ramming a bureaucratized education regimen down the throats of American families, with diktats coming from D.C. and each of the 50 states, just doesn’t work. Families should be able to pick the best type of schooling for their children. If a parent wants to send their kid to a school that teaches Catholicism, CRT, or whatever, they should pay for it. As a taxpayer, I deeply resent that money I have earned goes to schools that espouse curricula I don’t believe in. Also, with a smaller tax bite, most families would have some newfound money to pay for their child’s schooling.

What about poor families who don’t have the money to pay for their children’s education?

If a family demonstrates they can’t afford to buy food, we give them a SNAP card with which they can purchase groceries. Similarly, we can assist impoverished families by helping to subsidize their child’s basic education.

The Oklahoma charter kerfuffle will very possibly wind up in the nation’s highest court. But no matter, the public-private debates will rage on, and beleaguered taxpayers will still be on the hook for a great majority of it.

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Larry Sand, a retired 28-year classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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About Larry Sand

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network—a nonpartisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Photo: Catholic primary school school.

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