The Problems with School Vouchers

Handwriting letter with pen

Betsy DeVos is the new head of the U.S. Department of Education. Betsy is a Christian fundamentalist who loves the idea of school vouchers. Last night I learned that a legislative committee within the rabidly red Tennessee General Assembly (our state legislature) was going to vote today on a bill to implement an experimental school voucher program in Memphis, Tennessee.  School vouchers are a really bad idea for a number of really good reasons. Therefore, I felt compelled to fire off a written message to every member of the committee, urging them to vote against sending this bill to the legislative floor for a general vote. Apparently, many other people wrote letters too. The committee members voted to table the bill for no further action until sometime in 2018.  This means it is temporarily dead and might not be taken up again at all. 

The slightly edited text of my message is shown below for your reading pleasure.  If any of you fine readers are struggling with Trumpites and DeVosites pushing for a school voucher program in your state, please feel free to use my message below as a model to write an e-mail message or letter to your state representatives and state senators. You hereby have my written permission to use verbatim any part or all of the text in my message.  Here is the message:

Good morning.  I am a non-party-affiliated, Independent voter who actually votes. I have lived in Tennessee all of my life and have matriculated through Tennessee public schools. In addition, I have undergraduate and graduate degrees from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Although I have a son who attends a public school, I am not affiliated with any public school system in Tennessee, any teacher’s union, or any anti-voucher organization.  So, this is an honest letter from a real and independent Tennessee citizen.  I am writing this message to express to all of you my firm and strong opposition to an education voucher program in Tennessee.

Here are my reasons for opposition to a voucher program for K-12 students in Tennessee:

(1)  I do not think a voucher program will lead to better education for poor and minority students in Tennessee. The key problem with such students who cannot learn to proficiency is not bad schools or bad teachers. It is their turbulent home lives; neighborhood violence and gangs; and broken homes filled with drug abuse, violence, and absent fathers.  If they attend private schools with vouchers and go straight back to these troubled homes every afternoon, private schools will do no better than the public schools. Hardly anyone could get a decent education with a home and neighborhood environment like that. Vouchers will not work because they do not address the real problem—a bad home life and a bad neighborhood life that destroy both the mind and the soul.  The answer is not school vouchers. The answer is to put funding into improving the home lives and neighborhoods of these at-risk children we all love.

(2)  Vouchers will siphon large amounts of money away from the Tennessee public schools that do work well and increase property taxes for ordinary citizens in our Tennessee cities and counties to make up the shortfall. This will endanger public education as a whole in Tennessee.

(3)  I am a Christian and a member of The United Methodist Church.  However, I was once a member of a large and very conservative Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) church here in Tennessee.  Because I know American history well, I can tell you with absolute confidence that the strongest proponent for the principle of “separation of religion and state” throughout American history has been the Baptist churches all over Tennessee and the United States. Roger Williams, the founding American Baptist of the 1600s, was the father of this basic American principle, which was passed down from one generation to the next for 400 years in our Baptist churches. I believe in this principle, as do most American attorneys and most of the American people. Based on the constitutional separation of religion and state, I do not want my Tennessee tax dollars funneled into the purses of church schools, especially those church schools that teach their children theology and beliefs that disagree with my own Christian beliefs. No Tennessee citizen should be forced to subsidize with tax dollars the teaching of religious beliefs he does not agree with. It is simply a wrong-minded thing to do, and it will ultimately entangle government and religious schools in unhealthy ways that were never intended by our American founding fathers.  A voucher system will funnel my tax dollars directly into those private church schools.  This is just wrong.

(4)  I am a white Tennessean who is opposed to racism in all its forms.  I have lived with this racism all of my life in Tennessee, and I still see it everywhere. In my opinion, Tennessee racists, who mostly vote Republican, would love to see a voucher program for African-American students in Tennessee.  Why?  They believe African-American students cannot learn because they have a “nigger-streak” in them.  They see vouchers for private schools as the key to “deniggerizing” students.  If they can just find a way to get a black kid into a private school and the private school teachers can find a way to flush the jungle savage out of a black kid, then he will be able to learn and contribute positively to American society and culture—and not steal or kill white people.  Sorry to say, this same repugnant and addle-brained notion was already tried in the Federal American Indian Schools of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. History shows that it failed miserably and destroyed the lives of American Indian children and their families. It tore strong families apart.  This is a matter of public record in American history.  It is the very worst reason for a voucher program in Tennessee, but I fear it is the reason many white Tennesseans desperately want a voucher program.  African-American children cannot and will not thrive in American life by stripping away their African-American heritage and subculture.  This is doing violence to the minds of children. I beseech you—do not cooperate with the racists who want you to do this with school vouchers. This is a wrong-minded reason for school vouchers.

(5) It is a well-known fact—not a conspiracy theory—that many Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals hate American public schools and want to destroy them forever.  All you have to do is go on-line and read their websites (e.g., LOOK HERE)  Some are even affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). At annual SBC meetings in Nashville, they have actually sponsored formal resolutions requesting all Southern Baptists to remove their children permanently from public schools. They falsely claim that Tennessee public schools teach “Godlessness” to our children. As a Christian, I can tell you this is false.  It is a lie. I was never taught Godlessness in any Tennessee public school—and neither were my children.

These millions of hair-brained religious zealots see school vouchers as the key to destroying Tennessee and American public schools. What is their plan? First, they want you legislators to approve school vouchers for all Tennessee school children.  This will then drain American public schools dry of funds and students, which is part of their plan. In parallel, Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches will begin a massive building program for church schools throughout Tennessee and the United States. As the public schools quickly die off, the American people will have no other choice but to send their children to these new Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical schools—because by then they will be the only schools still in existence.  Therefore, United Methodists like me, members of nonfundie Christian denominations (deemed to be “false Christians”), and most other Americans will then be forced to turn over our children to their schools for re-indoctrination into Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism—to “save America.” This is the long-term plan Tennessee legislators—and you are falling for it.  All you have to do is visit their websites and study how they operate.

(6)  If you implement school vouchers and these well-laid plans and prejudicial intents come to pass—and they will eventually—you are going to see a conscious exodus of thousands of people—out of Tennessee.  I will not allow my United Methodist children to be taught anything in an Assembly of God church school. I will get a high-paying professional job in another state, sell my land, and move out of Tennessee. Many thousands of other highly educated Tennesseans, including wealthy, highly talented people who have moved here from up North and out West, will do the same. Tax collections will drop, businesses will leave, the Tennessee economy will suffer, and jobs will be lost.  This is the real future of school vouchers in Tennessee.  Therefore, I implore you on my knees in sack cloth and ashes. Please DO NOT vote for a school voucher program here in Tennessee.

Thank you for your time and interest.

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