The Baptist Standard Gets it Wrong on School Choice

The Baptist Standard is the news journal of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  The news stories are accurately and fairly covered, and the opinion pieces are usually fair and factual.  However, there are some glaring inconsistencies and errors in the editorial piece linked above, which appeared on February 22, 2017, written by editor Marv Knox, related to the issue of school choice and the proposals of vouchers for private schools being proposed at the time to the Texas Legislature.  It doesn’t appear that the editor did much more than cite commonly held, parroted beliefs about school choice of those opposed to it, without doing much research on the subject.

Mr. Knox makes some assumptions that are no longer true, and exhibits a degree of ignorance about Christian schools in particular, as opposed to “private” schools in general.

The assumption that support for the public education system is consistent with a somewhat vague interpretation of a general application of “historic Baptist principles” completely ignores the glaring reality that the public education system in this country, generally and specifically, is hostile to most of the beliefs Baptists hold to be essential to their faith.  The curriculum objectives are written around a wholly secular philosophical perspective that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of God, and as such, is not “religiously neutral” but is, rather, anti-religious and specifically anti-Christian.  Why would Baptists prefer teaching objectives to their children that are aimed at undermining their faith, rather than an education that undergirds and supports their values?  And why should they be required to support the undermining of their beliefs with their tax dollars?  Historic Baptist support for separation of church and state never envisioned a state that was hostile to the church, or an educational system that would become a platform for undermining it.

The quality of the education provided in the public school system is also a valid concern.  The public education system uses objectives aimed at achieving “minimum standards.”  Students are rarely challenged, and while you can find plenty of news items and magazine articles on high achieving public schools, they are rare, and even the best ones are not as good as most private schools.  Christian schools are right up there when it comes to the quality of instruction.  Of course, their critics have all kinds of reasons why, but it boils down to parent involvement, commitment that is motivated by that “religious purpose,” (like, perhaps, a desire to please God), and sound, instructional methodology provided by qualified teachers.  Why should parents have to support a poor-performing system with their tax dollars, and then pay extra to get their kids in a school with quality instruction?  Students whose parents don’t have the means to consider a choice are stuck in poor performing schools.

The assertion that vouchers “don’t help the poor” is speculation, and without foundation.  There are a number of states around the country, including the District of Columbia, that have operated voucher programs of various kinds for a long time.  The DC opportunity scholarship program is totally income based, and allows some of the poorest, and most educationally underserved children in Washington to attend some of the nation’s most elite private schools, many of them religiously-owned and operated.  Every indicator of student progress shows these students benefit tremendously from this program, from academic progress to the drop out rate.  Among those states that currently have voucher programs in place, virtually all of them are predominantly income based in their requirements, and serve populations of lower income families.

The basic tuition and fee rates for most Christian schools, 85% of them according to studies done within organizations like ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) are less than the per-pupil expenditure of the public school systems in their state.  Some of those states with voucher programs are finding that providing funds for students to attend private, Christian schools saves them money because the per-pupil expenditure is less than what they must provide to public schools.  

The assertion that a voucher, provided to parents, violates the historic Baptist principle of separation of church and state just doesn’t hold water.  The federal government has been giving similar vouchers to college students, in the form of Pell Grants, for decades, and students at virtually every Baptist-owned and operated college and university in the country have used them.  The fact that they are provided to college students, getting an education that is not compulsory, compared to those in grades K-12, which is, does not negate the fact that these are vouchers, made up of public tax dollars, that go to support parochial education, including helping to pay tuition and fees for students who are studying for the ministry.  You can’t have this both ways.  A Pell Grant is public money that is, in many cases, going to fund parochial education.  They are based on income requirement and student need, and for the most part, they enable the student to choose a venue for their higher education that they might otherwise not be able to afford.  End of story.

Students in Christian schools aren’t sitting around with open Bibles in their laps all day long, singing “Father Abraham” and studying theology.  Most Christian schools exceed accreditation standards required to prove they are meeting the state’s minimum objectives and providing a quality education to their constituents that will allow them to graduate from high school and be admitted to a college or university.  As long as they are meeting, and in most cases far exceeding, those minimums, the religious content of their curriculum should be of no concern to the state with regard to a voucher or school choice program.  Do the research, and you’ll find that even the Christian schools that have loaded up their enrollment with children from low income families in inner city poverty are exceeding those state minimum standards, and are seeing higher standardized test scores, college admissions, lower dropout rates and better results than the public schools get.

There’s no disadvantage, and lots of advantages, for the Baptists who have opted to send their children to Christian schools, nor for their churches, who are reaping the benefits of a trained, committed core of leaders who graduate from them.  The position taken by the Baptist Standard and its editor reflects a lack of familiarity and knowledge with Christian schools, an increasing number of which are being started by, and affiliated with Baptist churches in Texas and elsewhere, and the increasing number of Baptists who are sending their children to them.  Times have changed and so have schools since the days of Thomas Jefferson and the Danbury Baptist Association.  If Baptists don’t adjust their historic principles to meet the challenges of the time, their denominations will struggle, their churches will decline and their influence will wane.  Look around.





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