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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Winter 2007
Vol. 34 No. 1

Government Involvement in Religious Education:
Perspectives from Abraham Kuyper on School Choice  

William H. Jeynes and Wendy Naylor

During the 1980s and 1990s many European nations took a major step toward incorporating a greater level of school choice into their educational programs.1 Other nations around the world, most notably the United States, are watching European educational developments to help assess whether they should implement similar school choice programs.2 Many Americans, in particular, are interested in examining the overall effects of school choice and specifically potential effects of government intrusion into religious schooling. How Americans perceive broad European programs and their more localized domestic ones will play a large role in determining whether the United States applies a European-like school choice model.3

The American school choice movement received a boost when in June, 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Cleveland Voucher Program. The Cleveland school voucher initiative allows lower income primarily minority parents to receive $2,000-$5,000 from the state government to send their children to private schools. The Supreme Court declared that as long as vouchers were made available for children to attend both religious and non-religious schools, this program does not violate the Constitution.4 Many educators anxiously awaited the decision, because it paves the way for other school voucher programs to be developed in other communities and states. Many religious leaders are particularly happy because they believe the decision will open the door for more students to attend religious schools.5 These educators are convinced that it gives economically disadvantaged parents the same opportunity that middle- and upper-class parents already have:  the right to freely choose a school for their children. Christian Schools International rejoiced that, “Justice has come for economically poor parents who now will have a real choice to direct the education of their children.”6 The Council for American Private Education (CAPE) declared that this could be a “watershed moment in American history if states take advantage of this opportunity to provide poor families with educational choice.”7

One should not conclude that the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has the far-reaching effects of the moves by the Thatcher government in the 1980s to bring a choice program to Britain.8 There are two major reasons why the two events should not be compared. First, school choice as it is now practiced in Britain was part of a literal political movement initiated by the Thatcher government.9 Second, there were a large number of English who believed that the government needed to initiate substantial changes in the nation's education system.10 Many of these people did not share Thatcher's political views.11 In fact, it was actually the Labour Party, which was the first to propose school choice in Britain.12 Although the Labour Party wanted a more tempered form of school choice, it nevertheless points out that there were a number of people on both ends of the political spectrum who wanted school choice.13 In the United States, currently there is not a broad political movement that is urging the use of vouchers or tax credits. The American populous remains divided on this issue.

 

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