About 'The Road to the White House'
Question #5The cost of education has become almost unaffordable for parents who send their children to parochial schools, Jewish or other. No one is asking for the state to pay for religious studies. Americans want to keep Church and state separate. But what is your platform/plan/program to assist parents who want their children to have a religious as well as secular education?
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Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico (D)
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York (D)
Former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina (D)
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois (D)
Senator Joe Biden of Delaware (D)
First of all, let me reaffirm my commitment to what Thomas Jefferson called a "wall of separation between church and state." Our government must not place itself in a position that promotes or undermines religion in general, or one religion over another.
While our nation's government must be secular, we cannot and should not strive to remove religion from our public lives. Most of us are devoted to our God and inextricably linked to the values and teachings of our religion. Parents who wish to provide their children with a religious education certainly have the right to do so. The challenge for the next President will be to help these parents find affordable options while keeping government at an appropriate distance.
It will take some creative, out-of-the-box thinking, but one thing is clear: we need to stop thinking like bureaucrats and do what is best for children and families. In New Mexico, we've designed several options that have worked well:
New Mexico's Children Youth and Families Department works with some religious day care centers that offer pre-kindergarten. To be eligible for Pre-K funding, the centers must have open enrollment and must not teach religion for the portion of the day funded with state money.
Some New Mexico districts offer "Family School." In this model, children attend public school for half the day, usually taking core subjects like reading, math, and science. Parents may choose to have their children attend home school or a private, religious setting during the other half of the school day.
We also have a Catholic church operating a charter school that doesn't teach religion until after school hours, and it isn't mandatory for all students to attend.
Earlier this year, I signed the Cyber Academy Act, which will provide opportunities for kids to take courses online. Parents may choose to enroll their children in these online courses alongside religious instruction.
As Governor of New Mexico, I'm proud of my state's efforts to help parents find the type of education they want for their children. As President, I'll continue to work with parents, educators, and the private sector, finding creative, viable solutions that respect the separation of church of state.
I strongly support parents who wish to raise their children with strong religious faith, including through religious schools.
I have been a longstanding champion of charter schools, magnet schools and traditonal public schools, some of which are heavily influenced by a certain culture, set of values or even ethnicity. In New York City, we have many wonderful examples of such schools.
I know many graduates of these schools and recognize the fine education they have received. I also support the federal law that provides funding for students with special needs who are enrolled in private schools.
So, I believe there is room within the public system to create diverse options. I do not support vouchers that redirect limited resources away from the public system and to private schools.
For most families, the education of their children is of primary importance. However, the rising costs of middle-class necessities like health care, gasoline, housing, and school tuitions, coupled with stagnant wages, have taken the option of a private religious education off the table for many families.
Honesty requires me to be direct and say that I do not support vouchers for private schools. Vouchers often use tax dollars to fund religious activities and training and drain our public schools of much-needed funds.
Title I provides for the equitable participation of parochial school students in federal funding for the education of low-income students. Funds are available for non-religious educational products and services like math textbooks, lab equipment, and transportation services. As president, I would invest more in this type of educational support for needy parochial school children.
Government can support the choice of working parents to place their children in parochial schools. The line between state and religion must be strongly defended, but freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion. Children who attend religious institutions deserve access to the secular resources necessary to succeed in our 21st century economy.
All parents deserve to be able to send their children to quality schools. Some parents will choose to send their children to private schools, including parochial schools that impart their religious traditions along with a general curriculum, and I have deep respect for those who make that choice.
But I believe we need to invest in our public schools and strengthen them, not drain their fiscal support. And for this reason I do not generally support vouchers.
I would prefer to see energy and resources provided for the improvement of public schools, including innovation and options provided through public charter and contract schools, held to the same standards as other public schools, as is occurring in Chicago.
I have long supported education savings accounts that allow parents to withdraw tax-free earnings to pay for education expenses, which can include private school tuition.
These Coverdell Education Savings Accounts allow families to place money ($2,000 per year) in a tax-deferred savings account, as long as the funds are used to pay for a beneficiary's elementary, secondary, or postsecondary education expenses.