Some Thoughts on Public Aid to Christian Education

This year the question of government aid to non-public schools has become a national issue. Judging from columnists like David Lawrence and from reader responses printed in our national weeklies, a sentiment seems to be growing that non-public schools should receive tax money. The problem that concerns America is the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitutional amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…” How can a part of the large sum of proposed federal aid reach non-public schools as long as the Supreme Court rulings have gone to great lengths protecting the principle of the separation of church and state?

While America is pondering methods to effect a more equitable distribution of tax funds for education, supporters of religiously oriented schools. both Roman Catholic and Protestant, are asking themselves whether public aid would be good or bad. A difference of opinion prevails within the various groups. As supporters of Calvinistic Christian Schools we arc no exception. We too differ. The question of state aid was debated at the National Union of Christian Schools convention held in Worthington last summer. The question is now under discussion in our journals. in our Christian school district meetings, and in our principals’ clubs. It is a good thing that this question be thoroughly considered so that we may follow an enlightened path.

Historically Christian schools of Reformed persuasion have fought for full recognition along with other common schools of a country. Dr. Abraham Kuyper was the leader in this fight in the Netherlands. There Christian schools receive the same support as other common schools. In America our Christian schools, while eager to receive full accreditation as schools, have not aggressively fought for a share of tax funds. Our schools have, however. taken advantage of such public aid as has been made available to them. Today Christian school pupils ride on public school busses and participate in government food programs. Nonpublic school teachers use federal funds for scholarships through the National Defense Act. Many college students have benefited by the G.L Bill. In one area our people have aggressively sought relief from the extra burden imposed by Christian education. This is the area of income tax deduction for tuition. It is probably safe to conclude that Christian school people of Calvinistic persuasion feel justified in receiving help from public funds as long as it leaves them comparatively free.

Such a position is consistent with our tradition and the thinking of Calvinistic leaders. Abraham Kuyper was motivated by a world and life view to fight for full academic and financial recognition of Christian education. Mr. Glenn Andreas argued forcefully at the National Union Convention that we must insist on public aid on the basis of principle. By insisting on public aid we also testify to the American world that there is no such thing as neutrality in education. Tax money supports a world and life view when it provides public school education. Man is first of all a religious being. When the state educates him it cannot escape this fact. This is recognized at the level of higher education when state universities are concerned to have campus chapels. In the Grand Rapids area there arc plans for a new college. Among other things, the leaders of this college movement assure us that the religious aspect will not be neglected. It seems that America is becoming more sensitive to world and life views because of the totalitarian impact of Communism. There is a growing feeling that the secularism which binds public education limits its effectiveness in combating aggressive ideologies.

The question remains, however: what about public funds and control? No doubt there are dangers connected with government aid. But aid or no aid, the government will continue to exercise control over the schooling of its youthful citizens. It has a responsibility to see to it that its citizenry is adequately trained to safeguard democracy. The government must set standards for buildings, faculties, and curriculums. Now the question arises whether it is more dangerous to have control with corresponding financial aid or to have control without any corresponding financial responsibility on the part of the government.

A recent case of government control without corresponding government financial responsibility is the Ohio situation. There the Friends, or Brethren. as they are also called, are involved in court cases because they cannot meet the building requirement qf one classroom for every two grades. This recent law requires that no more than two classes shall be allowed in one classroom. This also means one teacher for two grades as a minimum. Small religious groups cannot meet that standard. In such cases control without aid is more threatening than control with aid. Incidents like this can be multiplied when one considers certification of teachers, laboratory requirements for science, etc.

Another compelling reason to study the question of public funds is the greater parental burden resulting from the enlarged educational program of our times. The college is becoming the common school. Today the question for the high school graduate is not so much, Shall I go on to school? The question confronting the graduate is, Which school shall I go to? Denominational colleges too are becoming the common school. When parents pay for 12 to 16 years of education for their children they have a greater burden than in past years when the average length was from 8 to 12 years. It is not uncommon among Christian school supporters to find families with a tuition bill of $1000 per year. With federal aid on the way this education bill is going to grow along with taxes.

Will tax money used to support non-public schools mean more control over these schools? No doubt it will as far as the mechanics of running a school is concerned. There will have to be an exact accounting given to the government of money spent. There will be a stricter enforcement of building codes, teacher certification, etc. Quite obviously the government is responsible for the money expended and will set in motion controls to safeguard the spending of funds.

Will the using of tax funds exert undue control over non-public schools? To this we cannot give a definite answer. From my reading and conversation about European democratic countries I judge that the religious stand of schools has not been jeopardized by public aid. It seems as if the customs and the traditions of a people have more influence on freedoms than government aid. In America the Federal government is determined to give aid without threatening local control. Only the vigilance of our citizens can assure this. It is doubtful to me whether public aid is really germane to this problem. It may be a symptom of the problem as pimples may be of small-pox, but it need not be. Government controls can come as easily, cheaply, and devastatingly without as with the use of public funds to non-public schools.