How would your child answer this test question?
How old is the universe?
(a) Approximately 6,000 years
(b) Approximately 13.8 billion years
(c) All of the above
(d) None of the above
The answer might depend on which taxpayer-supported school your child attends.
Based on their science courses, students in Wisconsin's traditional public schools would answer (b). Science supports an age of 13.8 billion years.
Based on religious teaching of creationism in their science classes, students in many of the state-subsidized voucher schools would answer (a). The Bible, they learn, supports a belief that the universe is very young.
Wisconsin taxpayers are paying millions of dollars for voucher schools in Milwaukee and Racine, most of which are religious, and many of which teach biblical creationism. A recent study found that at least 15 voucher schools in Milwaukee and Racine teach creationism.
The voucher students enrolled in these religious schools make up the vast majority of the state's total voucher enrollment -- 87 percent.
And under Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget, taxpayers will spend millions more to expand voucher schools to Beloit, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Sheboygan, Superior, Waukesha, and West Allis-West Milwaukee.
Here's an example of what three taxpayer-supported voucher schools in Milwaukee teach:
Wisconsin Lutheran High School receives just over $2.25 million annually in state tax dollars for its 350 voucher students. What are these kids learning in biology? One recent syllabus includes the following:
"Evolutionists are 'stuck' because they have no god, therefore they must believe in evolution"
"Fossil record supports creation"
"Young earth evidence a disaster to evolutionists"
"There are some strong evidences [sic] that point to a created universe"
Carter's Christian Academy receives just under $1 million annually in state taxpayer dollars for about 152 voucher students. It receives tax dollars for virtually all of its students.
The school's website states that it teaches creationism and "provides education to children from a biblical standpoint. Material is presented from God's point of view. The purpose of the program is to build God's Kingdom, to develop Christian character, and to instruct the student body on biblical principles."
Lastly, Milwaukee Lutheran High School, which teaches creationism, receives $2.5 million annually in state taxpayer dollars. More than half of its 622 students are voucher students. The school's website explains its "Christian Worldview" in part as follows:
"Does that mean Lutherans reject something like evolution? Quite simply, yes. Macro-evolution (one species turning into another over millions of years) is an unproven theory -- but our culture has erroneously accepted it as 'fact' due to repetition and a desire by sinful man to reject God."
"Do we teach evolution as one of the scientific theories, like the 'Big Bang' and others, and then expose and explain the fallacies of each of them? Absolutely! It helps students defend their faith and understand why we believe what we do."
Using taxpayer dollars to fund religious education undermines a precedent set in Wisconsin more than a century ago. Back in 1890, the state Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to require the reading of the Bible in public schools.
The Court explained that the state's commitment to common public schools where all pupils are equal was intended to attract immigrants.
"What more tempting inducement to cast their lot with us," the Court asked, "than the assurance that... the free district schools in which their children were to be, or might be educated, were absolute common ground, where the pupils were equal, and where sectarian instruction, and with it sectarian intolerance, under which they had smarted in the old country, could never enter?"
The system of publicly funded voucher schools that engage in sectarian instruction, and with it sectarian intolerance, should not expand, but come to an end.
Bill Lynch is a retired attorney from Milwaukee. He is a board member of the ACLU of Wisconsin and formerly served as its legal director and executive director. In the late 1990s Lynch represented NAACP in its challenge to the constitutionality of expansion of vouchers to religious schools.