Colorado lawmakers join call for end to public education

Tuesday, March 9, 1999

A California group calling for an end to public schools has received the support of two Colorado lawmakers.

The Separation of School and State Alliance, founded five years ago by Marshall Fritz and based in Fresno, advocates ending government-funded K-12 education. Fritz's group is similar to several other nonprofit organizations that believe government-run schools are hostile to Christian children and that those students should leave the public schools. Unlike other religious-based groups, Fritz's group takes a more libertarian stance, arguing that government should simply remove itself from the business of education.

Fritz, however, bases some of his displeasure on the treatment of students' religious expression in public schools. Fritz said that public schools teach “the unimportance of God.” According to the group's mission statement, if the government would cease funding education it “would not only improve academic achievement, but also help reverse the cultural trend of anger, violence, and aimlessness of so many youth.”

In late February, Fritz was able to encourage a state lawmaker and a U.S. representative to sign a pledge that reads: “It is clear that reform of state schooling will not solve the educational crisis. Therefore, we must end government compulsion in education funding, attendance and content. Separation of school and state is essential to restore parental responsibility and create an environment of educational freedom in which both students and teachers can flourish.”

Colorado Republican Tom Tancredo, who was recently elected to Congress and is serving on the House Education Committee, said in prepared statement that he signed the pledge because he wanted to “push the envelope of the debate.” He also said that he had been “calling for an end to the government monopoly school system” for more than 20 years.

The other Colorado lawmaker, state Sen. John Andrews, told The Denver Post that he signed the pledge because “it's worth working our way back to purely voluntary funding of education.”

Fritz also works closely with other newly formed nonprofit groups seeking to remove children from public schools, such as Exodus 2000. Exodus 2000, founded by Ray Moore, centers its attention primarily on Christian students.

“It has become increasingly clear to the national Christian leadership that there is an educational and spiritual crisis in public education of gargantuan proportions,” Moore said in an essay posted on the group's Web site. “The typical Christian family in America's heartland has been suffering for years because of the larger Church and her leaders have committed to the proposition that the public school system is an acceptable alternative for the education and nurture of Christian children.”

Lee Berg, organizational specialist in urban initiatives for the National Education Association, called both Fritz's and Moore's theories specious.

“Supposedly the end result of ending public education would be to allow parents to save tax dollars and then use them to provide private education for their children,” Berg said. “The problem is that all my state tax dollars could not even come close enough to paying for private school tuition for one of my children. It is an unrealistic argument that would leave our poorest children vulernable.”

The argument that public school teachers are hostile toward religion also is based on error, Berg says.

“The reality is that through equal-access law and other appropriate legislation, the religious free exercise of students has been more protected than at any other time,” Berg said. “The fact is that public school teachers reflect the religious make-up of the country.”

James Dobson's Focus on the Family, a religious, conservative group based in Colorado Springs, has not endorsed Fritz's or Moore's calls for ending public education. The group founded in 1977 by Dobson, however, sympathizes with the argument that student religious expression is suppressed in the public schools.

Perry Glanzer, education policy analyst for Focus on the Family, says that his group supports vouchers and tax credits as a way for parents to leave poorly operating public schools.

“Our final view would be to give parents a choice” with either vouchers or tax credits, Glanzer said. “I would agree, however, that the content and curriculum of public schools is extremely insensitive to the Christian worldview. I would say that the groups' calls and threats may make public schools more sensitive to Christians, and that would be great.”