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Forty States Prohibit Public Funding to Religious Schools

by guest blogger Andrew Ujifusa

All but ten states have constitutions that prohibit state funding from going to religious schools, a February study from the Education Commission of the States shows.

The study by ECS researcher Chris Leahy, "State Aid to Nonpublic Schools," examined the constitutions of all 50 states as to whether they explicitly prohibit funding for nonpublic schools. The study also found that twelve states also prohibit state funding for all nonpublic schools.

However, while the majority of states prohibit aid to religious schools, 29 states permit state funding for transportation to nonpublic schools, while 21 states allow state aid for private school students' textbooks and other instructional materials.

For example, Indiana's constitution prohibits public funding for religious schools, but state funds can go to transportation for nonpublic schools in that state, and to reimburse students' costs for textbooks in nonpublic schools.

Transportation funding for nonpublic schools, most common schools and students in rural areas, is often seen as a benefit to parents, not the nonpublic schools themselves, Leahy said. Funding for nonpublic school students' textbooks and instructional materials is often limited, he said, because the money must go for the same materials that public school districts and schools themselves use.

It should not be assumed that the five states where the constitution is silent on the nonpublic funding issue, such as Maine, Maryland and Vermont, necessarily allow funding for nonpublic schools or actually fund them, Leahy cautioned. The lack of constitutional language in those states about nonpublic funding may represent an unwillingness to alter their constitutions in general, he said.

The study did not include as state aid public funds used for vouchers, tuition credits, or tax benefits for nonpublic school attendance. Aid related to federal programs, such as the National School Lunch Program and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, was also not included in Leahy's study.

Outside of programs like vouchers and tuition credits, Leahy said, "There's very little funding going to private, nonpublic schools."

Louisiana has interesting, perhaps even chipper language on this subject, Leahy reported: "Free books for students." And indeed, the language of the state constitution as archived by the U.S. Department of Education makes clear that in the Pelican State (yes, that's Louisiana's nickname), the legislature shall appropriate funds to provide free books and other instructional materials to the "children of the state."

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