Religion in Society

Atheists Blast School Voucher Scheme

| by American Atheists

Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. John Boehner would restore funding to a controversial vouch program, and permit subsidies for private — and mostly parochial — schools.


Dubbed the “Opportunity Scholarship Program,” the measure seeks to continue an experiment in Washington, DC to provide grants of up to $7,500 for parents of over 1000 students that may be redeemed for tuition. The program would operate for five years in its initial phase, and cost approximately $500 million. OSP is a bellwether experiment, and will affect similar efforts across the country to essentially “de-fund” the cash-strapped public schools, and revitalize the nation’s declining parochial and other religious schools. There is also the prospect that the so-called “scholarships” will be used for tuition at madrassahs and “Islamic academies.”


This measure, HR 471, is currently in a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight. A mirror version is being promoted in the U.S, Senate. Right now, however, our representatives need to hear from concerned citizens about the dangers of this bill.

-- Studies on the effect of vouchers and so-called “scholarships” are often misleading. While students who receive such scholarships often perform better than their public school counterparts, the public schools cannot “pick and choose” which students to accept. Public schools must be open to all as part of a wider vision to promote universal education.

-- Voucher schemes are misleadingly promoted as a way to improve failing public schools through “competition. The effect, however, is just the opposite — public schools, already the victims of severe budget cuts, are deprived of essential funding. When these schools are closed, children suffer; they are often transferred to other distressed and under-funded public schools, resulting in larger class sizes and related problems.

-- There are nagging constitutional problems with OSP and other voucher experiments. In case after case, the only “alternatives” parents receiving these vouchers have is to send their youngster to a religious school. Courts have struck down these programs, admitting that they are simply a ruse to promote religious training. The fact that in some cases a “secular alternative” is required does not alter the fact that taxpayer money is being used to benefit religious schools.


Lawmakers need to hear from us now about this controversial and possibly even unconstitutional bill. We urge you to phone, fax, and write your representative.

-- To get started, visit the House of Representatives web site and locate your congressional representative. All have a CONTACT page which you may use for sending an e-mail; and they provide information like fax numbers and addresses for “snail mail,” which often has greater impact.

-- Be polite, concise and to the point. Tell your representative that you are concerned about the impact HR 471 and similar programs can have on our nation’s public school system.

-- Point out that as an atheist, you do not want your money to fund religious schools if any kind, from “Christian academies,” to Islamic madrassahs.

-- Be sure to include your name in your e-mail or letter. Be sure to ask for a response to your concerns.

-- Learn more about the problems with voucher schemes like the OSP.