No. of Recommendations: 3
Federal Government History of Support To Private and Religious Groups: Expanded Educational Opportunities For Americans

The federal government has a long history of giving private and religious groups taxpayer support when they serve the secular public interest. The education system is just catching up.

School choice for college students is one reason that this country's higher education system is the envy of the world. Pell Grants are an example of the federal government enabling school choice for millions of Americans. Students can use their Pell Grants or student loans to attend public, private, or religious schools. The college student gets to choose. And the G.I. Bill has long been a source of strength, rewarding veterans with federally supported higher education—at the schools of their choice.

Federal education laws already recognize that public funds can be used for private or religious institutions that serve the public interest in K through 12 education.

Title I funding for disadvantaged students has a provision allowing Title I funds to be used for services and equipment at non-public institutions when it is needed. The federal E-rate program allows private and religious schools to use funds to boost their school computer technology and on-line learning programs. The Individuals with Disabilities Act declares that if "the parents [of a special needs child] choose to place the child in a private school or facility, the public agency is not required to pay for the child's education at the private school or facility. However, the public agency shall make services available to the child." The Education Department General Administrative Regulations prescribe that a public agency "shall provide students enrolled in private schools with a genuine opportunity for equitable participation… and that such an opportunity must be comparable in quality, scope, and opportunity for participation to the program benefits that the (agency) provides for students enrolled in public schools."

Other federal programs already support faith-based groups, organizations, and religious institutions that serve the public interest.

For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) routinely rebuilds "community infrastructure" after hurricanes, floods, or other disasters. As part of those efforts, FEMA gives federal funds directly to private, even religious schools to rebuild everything—except their chapels. The Child Care and Development Block Grant of 1990 allows states to establish programs to provide low-income families with "child-care certificates" that may be used to purchase services from a private entity, including "sectarian child care services if freely chosen by the parent." The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 allows states to use federal funds to furnish "certificates, vouchers, or other forms of disbursement" to low-income families which can be used for "religious organizations." And, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, federal and state courts have consistently ruled that where public schools fail to provide children with an "appropriate" education, schools must provide opportunities in private schools.

Many states and local governments allow for public funds to go to private schools that can better meet the needs of at-risk youth or children with special needs. The states include Arizona, California, Florida, Minnesota, Oregon, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin.
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