Special New York Whines Report: In times of crisis, private schools stealing public funds

A unique survey of schools by our New York Whines on-the-scene reporters has revealed a misappropriation of public funds for private schooling in schools across most of Europe.  As European public debts skyrocket and European economies tremble on the verge of recession, vast sums of public dollars are being siphoned from taxpayers to support education in religious schools by the children of the upper middle class. In  Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium,  Italy, and nearly every other member of the European Union, millions of Euros are being poured into schools not owned by the government at a time when every other governmental expenditure is being carefully scrutinized.

The practice echoes—indeed, it anticipates—the Georgia tax credit scholarship program in the United States, which the New York Times, a paper for which we have the highest admiration, has shown to be “twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children.”   Just as in the United States, European countries are providing private schools with vast sums that pay the entire cost of the education for millions of students at religious schools–at a time when “deep cutbacks” in aid to “public schools” have been made.  Even the wealthiest families in Europe have the right to attend private schools on the government dole.  The practice began in the latter decades of the 19th Century and has been perpetuated—year after year—down to the present time.

Nor is it in Europe alone where the government is handing over money for the private education of the well-to-do.  In Ontario, Canada any family, no matter what their income, can send their child—at public expense—to a religious school.  And tens of thousands of Canadian families are doing just that.

Religious school apologists point to cross-country research showing that a healthy competition between public and private schools enhances the quality of both sectors.  Schools in Ontario, Canada, for example, are outperforming the schools in the United States by a wide margin, and research indicates that the competition between public and private schools has played a positive role. Similar research has been carried out in the United States, which shows improvements in public-school quality with the introduction of tax credit scholarships. These same apologists insist, as do the passionate defenders of tax credit programs in the United States, that the funding of private religious schools is entirely legitimate within each country’s constitutional framework.

All of which misses the point. As the New York Times rightly points out, “Many religiously affiliated schools across the country are known for turning our well-educated students and teaching core subjects without a sectarian bias.”  But some of these religious schools are teaching “a fundamentalist dogma.”  And it is utterly wrong for government money to pay for the education of the rich—unless they live in Scarsdale, New York, Palo Alto, CA or Brookline, MA.  If rich people are to get free schooling, they should be forced to segregate themselves into exclusive communities serving only like-minded individuals.

It’s time for the countries of the European Union—and Canada, too–to put their education houses in order.

Paul E. Peterson, New York Whines—and also editor of Education Next.

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