Author - Speaker - teacher

An educated citizenry is required for our government to succeed. A successful government is required to maintain order. If we desire order to be maintained while maximizing individual liberty, we must have a government under the control of an educated citizenry.

These ideas are what drove our federal and state founders to justify the use of public funds to educate students in grades Kindergarten through twelfth. In poll after poll, Americans have shown their overwhelming support for continuing this mandate. But a significant number of America's children are prohibited from receiving the direct benefit of taxpayer support because their parents choose to use alternative education systems other than public schools.

In my home state of Minnesota, as of October, 1996, more than 83,000 children attend non-public schools, the greatest majority of which are enrolled in sectarian schools. Best estimates indicate about 15,000 or more students attend a home school. At the same time, almost 834,000 children attend Minnesota's public schools in grades K-12. It is probable that a similar percentage of students attending non-public schools is common across America.

Minnesota's recent legislative battle over tax credits for parental choice essentially was about the issue of using tax dollars to support educational alternatives for students. Our battle is being repeated in many other state legislatures, and Congress recently attempted to fund tax credits for families choosing alternative schools.

Those who desire to protect a monopolistic government-controlled school systems argue that giving funds to alternative schools involves the state in an unconstitutional support of religion as well as threatening the existence of the public school systems. They would rather disenfranchise the thousands of American children whose parents have chosen alternatives and penalize those parents by forcing them to pay taxes in addition to the tuition they pay to their alternative schools.

At the same time, many private, parochial and home-school educators fear any government entanglement in their programs, and justifiably so. The government's recent record on religious freedom in tax-supported settings is quite dismal.

Americans are, on the whole, quite religious people. It is conceivable that, given the ability to afford it, many more people of faith would send their children to schools which center their curriculum around their chosen religious doctrine. This idea, of course, sends chills down the spine of the National Education Association leaders and those who believe it is imperative that no one should be entitled to mix religious persuasion with learning.

Jews, Muslims and Christians all give credence to the Old Testament teaching in Proverbs 1:7a, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge," but our government schools forbid teaching from a God-centered world view. Put the two together, and it is obvious that millions of American children are being denied what their faith teaches as true knowledge.

Sate governments need to support and embrace people of faith in this most critical period of development of their children. This can be done with an amendment to each state's constitution requiring a publicly-supported education for all people, even schools that embrace and teach religious doctrine. Such an amendment might read:

The state legislature shall appropriate funds sufficient to provide an education for every child residing in [Minnesota] from kindergarten-age until graduation from high school or age 21, whichever comes first. Funds so appropriated may be designated by a parent or legal guardian of an age-qualified child, or an by adult above the age of 18 as it pertains to that adult's education, to pay for education services in schools including but not limited to those operated by government agencies, parochial or private school officials, home school educators, or benevolent organizations. The state legislature shall establish grade appropriate core curriculum requirements for schools receiving public funds, except that the legislature and other government agencies shall not prescribe nor prohibit the inclusion of any religious doctrine, teaching materials or teaching method used in the education of any student or group of students.

This amendment would allow for the development of public schools organized around religious doctrine without jeopardizing religious freedom. At the same time, schools which embrace a totally non-religious curriculum would be free to do so. They would all compete for students along with other alternative education systems.

The state, which has a compelling interest in an educated citizenry, would be represented in its determination of what requires a basic curriculum, except that they could not dictate the specifics of the curriculum. Parents joining together with teachers in their own schools could choose the specific curriculum and supporting materials. One school may, for instance, teach the religious basis of the American Declaration of Independence, while another may choose only to study its complaints against King George. Both would fulfill the requirement to study great American historical documents.

Public school teachers are, of course, as mixed in their religious faith as is the general public. Many public school teachers may want to form doctrine-based schools. Others may want to design a non-sectarian curriculum. With this amendment, they would be free to do so.

This amendment would, of course, raise the hackles of the multiculturalist crowd, claiming it would result in the Balkanization of society. They would be horrified by the thought that Muslims would learn from a Muslim world view, or Christians from a Christian world view. This claim is groundless.

America's Founders were, essentially, Protestant. Yet in their Constitutional deliberations, they took great pains to ensure no single church would dominate our governing system. At the same time, they knew that people of faith make the best citizens, respectful of the rights of others and responsible for their own actions. It took them years to address the sin of slavery, but address it they did through the shedding of the blood of hundreds of thousands of American citizens, driven by the words of the Declaration: "all men are created equal" - a religious doctrine, also embraced by the modern civil rights movement.

America's Founders wrote, in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, that "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." [Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Article III] I agree with these wise men. I think most Americans would also agree. Then why, one must ask, do we tolerate laws which prohibit the first two aspects of this all-important truth?

The Education Freedom of Choice Amendment is an idea whose time is now.

Education Freedom of Choice Amendment