Acton Institute Powerblog

Taxes and Tuition: Families Squeezed by Rising Costs of Religious Education

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136 Catholic schools were closed nationwide in 2004, even as the Catholic population in the United States has been rising. Kevin Schmiesing writes that “the economic bind that religious schools and their students increasingly find themselves in highlights an injustice at the heart of American education.”

Read the full text here.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Ken Mathews

    Homeschooling can be kept very inexpensive and it is by far the best method for providing children with an excellent bible-based education. We as christians are going to have to fully commit to a biblical lifestyle and stop try these half-measures. It is the responsibility of the Father and Mother, especially the FATHER to educate their children. Public school is disastrous, religious schools are passable, Homeschooling with bible-based curriculum is far and away the best option for God fearing Fathers and Mothers.


    Ken Mathews

  • Mark Trainor

    You simply cannot frame this argument as an “injustice” without taking into consideration American citizens with no children. Should they be forced to subsidize Catholic families and their multitude of offspring? The voucher system works only if those tax payers without children are given exemption.

  • J. Ankrom

    I suppose it’s okay for citizens without "a multitude of offspring" to be required to subsidize the public schools?

    Likewise, that, "multitude of catholic offspring" should not be required to subsidize retired persons with no children through Social Security and Medicare taxes?

    Talk about an injustice.

  • J. Ankrom

    Mr. Trainor:

    If, families (large or small) who opt for private education are not being unjustly treated by being forced to pay twice, one can hardly claim to be treated unjustly for paying once.

    You cannot have it both ways. If it is unjust for persons with no children to be taxed for private schools they don’t use, then it is equally unjust to tax persons with children for public schools they don’t use.

    If you simply want to resist having your taxes used to subsidize private education then you must be willing to grant that same freedom to persons who don’t want to subsidize public education. Somehow, I don’t get the impression you support that logic.

    Logically, your assertion, "The voucher system works only if those tax payers without children are given exemption," should apply regardless of whether vouchers exist or not. Given it appears your argument rests in the fact they have, "no children." With that I heartily concur. However, I suspect you are quite satisfied with forcing everyone, children or no children, to subsidize public education. It is merely Catholic education and those with a ‘multitude of offspring’ having the freedom to choose such education that you really oppose.

  • D. Gunderson

    Since it is mandatory to educate all capable children, it is also mandated that taxpayers contribute wether they have children or not. It is the same with many other things that we pay taxes for. You may not use the public library, but it is supported by your taxes. Many sport complexes are tax supported by those who have zero interest in those sport teams. When a family chooses a parochial school, they should be entitled to using the same money that would go for public education as it is not putting an additional burden on taxpayers any more than when other tax supported entities compete.

  • Mark Trainor

    So, if my family chooses to shop at the local bookstore rather than use the public library, should we be entitled to using the same money that would go for public libraries as we are not putting an additional burden on taxpayers? I’m not talking about rebates here, I’m not talking about trading dollars. I’m talking about exemption. You know, like the exemptions from taxation allowed to churches and other religious groups.

  • David T. Koyzis

    Why should citizens with no children be taxed to support the education of other people’s children? Because everyone has an interest in future generations and the continuation of society. We are not simply autonomous individuals. Kevin Schmiesing’s article strikes the right balance, as I see it, between recognizing the priority of parents in their children’s education and the need for society to ensure that the next generation is indeed educated. We nearly had the beginnings of this in Ontario under the former provincial government in the form of a gradually increasing education tax credit. But when the opposition came to power two years ago, the new government abolished it retroactively. So we’re back to square one.

  • J. Ankrom

    I find it curious that Mr. Trainor uses the Public Library system visa-vis a Retail service bookstore to support his argument against vouchers. As far as comparing apples to striped ‘kumkwats’ there’s one other distinction which is more closely connected to the Education system and the Library System. If my local library doesn’t have what I want, the library in the next county might; and I am free to go to that one if I want. If the local school can’t provide what I want I’m stuck. That’s called a monopoly and it is crippling children who can least afford a poor education.

    By the way Mr. Trainor, vouchers can be used for Public Schools too.

  • Mark Trainor

    Mr Schmiesing chose to define taxes as fees when he stated above: “… the economic bind that religious schools… find themselves in highlights an injustice at the heart of American education. Parents who elect to send their children to religious schools must support financially two educational systems—the religious one and the state one—while parents who send their children to state schools pay no such double fee.”

    The logical conclusion of this line of thought is that those citizens who do not avail themselves to whatever public system is being offered (such as the public library system as pointed out by D. Gunderson) are somehow being penalized.

    So where do you draw the line, and who gets to draw it?

    This is a slippery slope indeed, and one that obviously requires a more careful traversing than Mr Schmiesing has given us.

  • Re: Drawing the line

    Well, for some reason, younger people are required to go to school, whether they like it or not, but they are not required to go to the library, the park, the commmunity center etc.

    I think for publicly dictated service, (vaccinations, school) the voucher choice should be available, for optional choices, no voucher required.


  • “Those who take the King’s shilling must do the King’s bidding.”

    I hear things like this but it doesn’t convey the whole story. If persons of faith can educate more for less, then they should,

    Likewise, the comment above concerning parents educating their children doesn’t take into view the fact that other persons in the churches are enjoined to teach.

    An elder or bishop, for example, is to be “apt to teach.”