Today, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published my op-ed addressing the claims of a group called Pastors for Texas Children. For the last month, the pastors have been flooding the pages of Texas newspapers with op-eds opposing school choice. Although they raise some legitimate concerns about school vouchers, their charges against scholarship tax credits—and school choice laws generally—range from lacking substance to being demonstrably false.
There wasn’t enough space to address all of their claims in a single op-ed, but fortunately, here at Cato@Liberty we buy megapixels by the barrel (or whatever they come in).
The claims made by six Fort Worth pastors in this op-ed were typical. I’ll address their major claims point by point:
The Texas Senate recently passed Senate Bill 4, providing tuition tax credits to donors giving scholarships to private schools. These are plainly private school vouchers.
Actually, the scholarships plainly are not vouchers. Voucher programs are government-funded and administered. Tax-credit scholarships are privately funded and administered by nonprofit scholarship organizations. As I wrote in the Star-Telegram, it’s like the difference between government-issued food stamps and nonprofit food banks. Donors to both scholarship organizations and food banks have their tax burden lowered as a result, but in neither case do the donated funds transmogrify into government property.
Our state Legislature has repeatedly rejected private school vouchers because they divert public money to religious schools in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits any establishment of religion.
First, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that school vouchers are constitutional because they serve a secular purpose, are neutral with respect to religion, and the funds are given to parents who can choose among religious or secular options. This is no more offensive to the First Amendment than holding a Bible study in a Section-8 subsidized apartment or using Medicaid at a Catholic hospital with a crucifix in every room and chaplains on the payroll.
Second, as noted previously, tax-credit scholarships are private funds. In ACSTO v. Winn, SCOTUS held that private funds do not become government property until they “come into the tax collector’s hands.”