Last summer, Valarie Hodges, a Republican state representative in Louisiana, offered her enthusiastic support for a school voucher plan that would divert scarce resources from struggling public schools to private religious schools. Then, all of a sudden, Hodges changed her mind.
Apparently, the Republican state lawmaker thought “religious” meant “Christian,” and when Hodges learned that public funds might also go to Muslim schools, she balked. Hodges wanted taxpayer funding for religions she likes, not religions she doesn’t like.
This year, this same dynamic is unfolding again, this time in Tennessee, where a plan to transfer taxpayer money to religious academies is running into trouble as GOP lawmakers slowly realize that all religions will be eligible for public funds (via Adam Peck).
“This is an issue we must address,” state Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) said. “I don’t know whether we can simply amend the bill in such a way that will fix the issue at this point.”
State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Tracy each expressed their concerns Friday over Senate Bill 0196, commonly called the “School Voucher Bill” and sponsored by fellow Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), which would give parents of children attending failing public schools a voucher with which to enroll in a private school.
Regardless, the larger dynamic continues to amaze me.
For voucher proponents, the first thought tends to be, “Never mind the separation of church and state; let’s use taxpayer money to finance religious education.” Which is then followed by a second thought: “Wait, you mean religions I don’t like might get my money?”
The state senator quoted in the article said he wants lawmakers to “address” this issue, and I’m eager to see what kind of remedy they cook up. If it involves specifying which religions can get tax dollars and which religions cannot, I have a strong hunch this plan will be rejected in the courts faster than Bill Ketron can say, “Islamophobia.”