UPDATE 2/12/13: The post below is a longer version (it has more examples of religious school policies in New Hampshire) of the “My Turn” opinion piece published in the Concord Monitor this morning.
Starting next September, New Hampshire’s new voucher program would provide scholarships worth an average of $2,500 per year to students going to private and religious schools and up to $625 for home schooling costs. Businesses would have the option of funding these scholarships in lieu of paying their state taxes. The State would off-set that lost tax revenue by reducing state funding to school districts.
The program starts small but grows quickly. In the first 10 years, the State could spend as much as $130 million moving our children out of the public schools into private, religious and home schools. At that point, we would be spending $30 million per year to send 13,000 students to private schools. And former speaker Bill O’Brien says he wants to expand the program even faster.
This is a “voucher” program because, like all voucher programs, it funds private school tuitions from the state budget. But unlike others, its key feature is that the New Hampshire voucher program has no accountability to the taxpayers.
We have a charter school program in New Hampshire that is very successful because it is accountable. The state Board of Education oversees the approval and renewal of each school’s charter in great detail. Supported by the Department of Education, the board ensures, among other things, that each charter school’s mission is relevant to community needs and that the curriculum meets acceptable standards.
But the sponsors of New Hampshire’s voucher law have shielded their program from any form of accountability for educational results.
This becomes a particular problem if religious schools participate in the voucher program. Religious schools play an important role in private education but should not be supported by New Hampshire taxpayers.
The constitutionality of the voucher program is being challenged in court on that and other grounds, but, regardless of the court decision, it is bad state policy to spend state money without the kind of oversight we have of charter schools.
In fact, as in other states’ voucher programs, most schools participating in the New Hampshire voucher program would probably be religious schools, if only because their tuitions are low and a $2,500 voucher will go a lot further.
And religion is central to the missions of many of these schools, as described in their literature. For instance,
- At Cornerstone Christian Academy, a K–8 school in Epsom, the “purpose” of the school is “to be an extension of the Christian home and church . . . and thus to provide a continuity of training for Christian young people.”
- According to Mount Royal Academy, a high school in Sunapee, “Catholic identity . . . is the most defining characteristic of our school community. Our Catholic identity influences how we teach, how we coach, how we play, and how we pray.”
- At Community Bible Academy in Berlin, “[a]ll subject matter is presented in light of the Scripture with a Biblical view of God and guiding principles to equip the student for life.”
- The “purpose” of Calvary Christian School in Plymouth is “to provide Christian education by integrating Biblical principles throughout the curriculum.”
- Dublin Christian Academy promulgates a “Statement of Faith” that professes that “the Genesis account of creation is to be accepted literally and not allegorically or figuratively”; that “all animal and plant life were made directly by God in six literal, twenty-four hour periods”; and that “any form of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery, and pornography are sinful perversions of God’s gift of sex.” This Statement of Faith also condemns all forms of abortion, including for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
Most of New Hampshire’s religious schools require students to participate in religious activities such as Bible classes, worship services, and classroom prayer that integrate religious instruction into the curriculum.
- At Salem Christian School, “[a]ll grades incorporate Biblical principles in all subjects and also have regular Bible study classes” every day of the week except for Wednesday, which is when the weekly “chapel service” is held.
- The Infant Jesus School, a Catholic elementary school in Nashua, requires all students, “regardless of the[ir] religious affiliation,” to “participate in all liturgies, classroom prayer, and other aspects of the spiritual life of the school. The teaching of Religion is a content subject in which all students must participate.”
The Bethlehem Christian School and others use the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. Among many other Christian tenets, the ACE curriculum teaches that: humans and dinosaurs co-existed, evolution has been disproved, a Japanese whaling boat found a dinosaur, and science proves homosexuality is a learned behavior.
- At Nashua Christian Academy, students seeking admission to the high school must submit “a written essay of their Christian testimony” as part of their application.
- Students applying to the high school at Trinity Christian School in Concord must “have at least one parent who has a profession of faith in Christ and is an active attendee of a gospel preaching church.”
- The “Community Life Statement” of Jesse Remington High School in Candia contains a section “renounc[ing] . . . sexual immorality such as premarital intercourse, adultery and homosexual behavior.” All school employees and board members must be in
“complete agreement” with the Community Life Statement; if they disagree, they “may be asked to separate from Jesse Remington High School.” Students or families who take “public issue” with the Community Life Statement may also be asked to leave the school.
- Christian Bible Church Academy in Nashua requires its students to sign a “Student Pledge of Christian Conduct,” in which the students “reaffirm that [they are] born-again Christian[s] striving to live [their lives] according to the Bible,” and promise that they will
“faithfully and consistently attend the services of the Bible believing church which [their] family attends.”
Most of New Hampshire’s religious schools discriminate on the basis of religion, either in hiring employees or in admitting prospective students. Some just do not accept students of a different religious affiliation.
These schools are an important resource to families who share their beliefs. However, with no public oversight of their missions and curricula, they should not receive tuition payments funded by New Hampshire taxpayers.
Governor Hassan supports repeal of the voucher program. The House will soon vote on HB 370 to repeal the voucher program. Legislators should support HB 370 to repeal the voucher program.