Vouchers, Pray Tell

April 11th, 2019

When the federal government ordered desegregation of Memphis City Schools in 1973 by busing, it seemed like every white church with four Sunday school classrooms and a gym started a school.

The reasons weren’t holy and education was not improved.

Now state government has found another way to get the faithful fired up again at the expense of public schools.

As published in The Daily Memphian

Money On Book


When narrow minds craft narrow legislation to advance narrow beliefs the consequences may be much broader than anticipated.

The school voucher legislation wandering through our state legislature is the latest example. Governor Lee calls his vouchers “education savings accounts,” but, to expand on a Shakespeare verse I first heard in public school, a rose and a voucher by any other name smell the same. When the governor says that public schools will be reimbursed for the public money stolen for private school vouchers, he doesn’t mention that the reimbursement is only for three years and has more strings attached to it than Pinocchio.

All those good God-fearing Christians that so often preach to us from their ersatz pulpits in the majorities of both the state house and senate might be sending yours and my dollars to very different collection plates than they had in mind.

Your money may soon require children to cover their heads in school and pray to Allah, or to accept abstinence as the only acceptable form of birth control and the Pope as the only true head of the only true church. Or to accept Jesus Christ as your savior, or not to accept Jesus as the Messiah at all. Or to accept the Bible as the literal word of God, or the Torah as the word of God revealed to Moses, or the Koran as the word of God dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel, or that the Book of Mormon is the word of God as revealed to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni. Or God knows what.

In fact, if there’s a private school out there with a class 1, 2 or 3 rating founded by Faustidians that sacrifices chickens and teaches your kids to howl at the moon, yours and my public dollars could buy those chickens as long as the kids can pass minimal Tennessee achievement standards – less, in fact, than public schools. With no regular supervision, with very little supervision at all, all a private school has to do to get about $7,300 a year per pupil of public tax money from our governor is hold out a hand. And the besieged and already underfunded public schools are left begging.

I don’t want my kids taught your religion on my nickel anymore than you want them taught mine on yours. Both of us have the right to send them to any private school we like and to pay for it. Neither of us has the right to send them to that private school with the other’s money. None of us has the right to force our faith on anyone, or to use public money to advance that faith.

Recently, the University of Memphis ended negotiations with St. Anne’s Catholic Church to put a public middle school in St. Anne’s empty school buildings primarily because the church would require that anything taught there could not violate the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church. The same requirement buried in the lease agreement between a new charter school network and the vacant Catholic Jubilee Schools it would occupy is causing problems. The allocation of public resources cannot be limited or defined by any religion, yet you and I are about to pour millions upon millions of our dollars into faith-based education of every kind and into private education both good and bad further limiting the education of every child left behind.

Public education is not faith-based; it is Constitution-based.

I’m a Memphian, and I have no faith in vouchers. Amen.

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