A change in the Missouri Constitution is being proposed that would enable religious groups to receive public funds for the schools they operate. State Sen. Scott Rupp, whose district includes Lincoln County, is sponsoring the legislation. The Republican says the current ban is outdated and discriminates against religious institutions.
Reaction in Northeast Missouri to the proposal is mixed. Matt Koenig, principal of St. John’s Lutheran School in Hannibal, would be willing to accept public money to help the school, regardless of the potential bureaucratic headaches accepting such funds might carry. “Any time we can get financial support to spread the Gospel I think is a good thing. While the avenues sometimes can create issues, if it’s money that we could use for the education of our students and the expansion of our school and ministry here, no headache is too big,” said Koenig, noting that enrollment for kindergarten through fifth graders at the school is 57 students.
While Koenig is open to the possibility, Jeremiah Lewis, principal of the Mission Hill Christian Academy in Palmyra, says “thanks, but no thanks” to the prospect of receiving public money. “I know there are a lot of schools that would jump at the chance. I think the more we can keep government out of the school the better. I don’t think as far as our school it would be something I’d be interested in. We aren’t here to make money, we’re here to help young people,” said Lewis, whose enrollment for kindergarten through 12th grade is 27 students.
At Hannibal Christian Academy, Principal Elva Light sees both potential benefits and downfalls of receiving public money for the school. “We have a lot of families that would like to be able to have their children in the climate of a private parochial school that offers not only good academics, but a strong Christian emphasis as far as discipline and how to live our lives. I think it would be quite beneficial. My only concern would be when you’re dealing with state money, many times there are state attachments,” she said.
Light proposes another option to help pay for a child’s education. “I think really the best way to do education for families is to go to a voucher system so a parent has the right to make a selection where their child is educated, whether it be private, parochial or homeschooled,” she said. “Many homeschoolers spend a lot of out-of-pocket money annually for different curriculum that they need. Those homeschoolers ought to be able to access money also to educate their children if that is their choice. “I think a voucher system would probably keep government controls out of it.”
In Monroe City, Suzanne Walker, principal of Holy Rosary School, is a proponent of taking down the constitutional barrier which hinders the education of youngsters.
“The greater partnership between church and state would be very beneficial to meet the educational needs of all students,” she said. “In today’s world of limited budgets and other challenges to providing a solid education to students the repeal of the Blaine Amendment would assist educators in meeting the needs of the future citizens and leaders of our country. The proposed amendment to repeal the Blaine Amendment would not by itself bring about any particular service for private-school students, but would remove any constitutional impediment to the Missouri General Assembly that presently does not allow some benefits to students attending religious schools.”
Walker noted that in states such as Illinois, Wisconsin and New York, public money can be used to help with non-religious textbooks and transportation at private schools.
“Missouri has absolutely nothing,” she said. “It’s for the benefit of the students. Religious schools do a whole lot for our country and for the youth of our country, and it’s for the greater good of everybody without pushing any particular religion.”