JEFFERSON CITY - A Senate proposal would allow state funding to go to religious institutions. The possibility is sparking debate over its impact on the separation of church and state.
Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, introduced the proposal to the Senate Thursday. If passed, the resolution would repeal a current constitutional amendment prohibiting state funding for religious organizations. Rupp said his reasoning for the proposal came about in part because schools in Kansas City and Saint Louis lost state accreditation. Rupp says underperforming public schools are part of his motivation in garnering support for parochial schools.
"What do we care more about?," Rupp said. "Do we care more about providing a high-quality education to students, or do we care more about continuing the bureaucracy of an institution? And I think that's the heart of the matter."
A former schoolteacher, Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said she is concerned the change could weaken the already underfunded public school system.
"There is a fundamental movement to take public money and place it into private institutions," Lampe said. "and whether that is religious or not, the point is that citizens give their money to the state of Missouri through tax revenue so that it can be used for the public good."
Lampe said she wonders if state funding could open the door for state intervention into private religious institutions or these institutions will be allowed to keep themselves outside of government intervention.
One senator calls the current amendment discriminatory and a relic of anti-Catholicism and anti-immigration sentiment from the 1800s. Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said the current Missouri Constitution infringes upon the freedom of parents to choose which schools their children attend. Barnes doesn't see the resolution as supporting religious institutions but as giving students additional educational resources.
The proposal to allow state funding for religious learning insitituions is only one of many issues relating to underperforming Missouri schools. Along with this proposal, there has been cuts in funding for higher education and the formula for K-12 school funding is under review.
The resolution has not yet been assigned a Senate committee.