Tax Dollars Are Used to Teach All Sorts of Stupid Shit, But It's News When Vouchers Are Involved


Politico has a story hitting the webz that's all about how publicly funded school voucher programs allow students at "hundreds" of religious schools to learn stupid stuff like "young Earth creationism."

Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies.

Hundreds of religious schools! A billion dollars! Note the slippage from billions to hundreds at the very top of the story. Forget also that we spent about $638 billion on K-12 expenditures in 2009-2010, so $1 billion is practically a rounding error. If you led with the fact that perhaps thousands of students were being taught unscientific theories in schools aided by tax dollars, well, that's just not that big a deal, is it?

I don't believe in creationism—and I'm enough of a smarter-than-thou secularist to know that evolution will proceed apace regardless of the 78 percent of Americans who think that "God created humans in their present form" or "Humans evolved, with God guiding." In fact, according to Gallup surveys, just 15 percent of agree that "Humans evolved, but God had not part in the process." Cheer up, Darwinites, that's up from just 9 percent back in 1982.

As the parent of two children who attend public schools (and as a taxpayer who has contributed to public schools my entire working life), I have long understood that schools funded with tax dollars teach all sorts of stuff that is objectionable, useless (sports programs!), and flat-out wrong. I also know that in both direct and indirect ways tax dollars support religious schools whose theology I find objectionable, useless, and flat-out wrong. This sort of support is not limited to K-12 education, as Pell grants and guaranteed student loans are widely used at religious colleges.

At the same time, there's no question in my mind that school vouchers are not simply constitutionally sound but preferable to a traditional top-down, centralized school system. Whatever else you can say about school vouchers and other forms of school choice (such as charter schools), they expand opportunites for parents and students whose children are otherwise screwed. There is much research documenting that vouchers improve student outcomes and little that says vouchers diminish student outcomes. Stephanie Simon, the author of Politico's story about creationism and vouchers, quoted a Brookings scholar in a piece last year saying, "There's no evidence that people are being harmed" via voucher programs.

We live in a pluralistic society, one in which many different types of people believe many different types of things. Ideally, none of us would be forced to subsidize lifestyles, schools, or decisions with which we disagree. Certainly it would be better to separate school and the state, if only because as Marx, Hayek, and anyone with half a brain understands, compulsory education tends to reinforce the status quo and maintain the existing social order rather than create critical thinkers.

But until we agree to get the state out of the education business, I can't get worked up over "hundrdeds of religious schools"—there are about 100,000 public schools in the country—using tax dollars to teach stupid stuff.

Meet a typical voucher student in this 2009 Reason TV video about the D.C. voucher program that was kneecapped by President Obama, who sends his kids to private school: