With Iraq and terrorism sucking so much air out of political discussion this year, the issue of school vouchers has almost disappeared, at least in the presidential race, with the main educational arguments about whether Kerry flip-flopped on Every Child Left Behind, and whether Bush has supported his own program. The school voucher issue will probably not be addressed in the debate on domestic issues Wednesday because—although divisive–it lacks the emotional pull of issues such as health care or abortion.
The United States Supreme Court has said the nation’s Constitution does not bar school vouchers. But it also ruled this year that states that gave money for secular education were not compelled to support religious instruction as well, essentially leaving the issue to state courts. Most activity on the issue is likely to be in the state courts over the next few years.
In August 2004, a Florida appeals court ruled that a voucher program for students in failing schools violated the state’s Constitution because it sent public money to religious institutions. Most state constitutions prohibit or restrict state money from being spent on religious institutions, and that remains one of the principal legal barriers to the widespread adoption of school vouchers.
The public is split. A spring 2004 survey by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that overall Americans are divided on the use of school vouchers, slightly more people disapproving of the notion by a 45%-to-39% margin.
Traditionalist Evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics favor them, while modernist Evangelical Protestants, modernist Catholics, centrist and modernist Mainline Protestants, Jews, seculars, atheists and agnostics oppose them.
Minorities were split on the issue of school vouchers. Latinos generally favor vouchers — Latino Protestants by a 51%-to-31% margin and Latino Catholics by an even larger 58%-to-22% margin. But Black Protestants are more ambivalent, splitting 43%-to-40% against vouchers.