If members of the Maine House were trying to confuse us, they did a good job Tuesday when they passed a bill that would subsidize private schools, both secular and religious.

The bill would create a tax credit for people who send their children to a school other than the local public school to help defray the cost of their private school tuition.

For those of us who had been led to believe that the state was in such bad financial shape that major cuts were needed to services used by retirees, the disabled and poor to balance the budget, finding out that there was enough money lying around to create a new $25 million giveaway for private institutions was quite a shock. Of course, the money is not there.

Even if this were good public policy, now would be the wrong time to introduce this kind of program. It is not good policy, however, and it should have been voted down.

We currently have a system of public education, which despite all of its well-publicized failings, provides every child with an opportunity to learn. It is funded by all taxpayers because we all benefit from living in a well-educated community, even if we don’t have children in the schools.

Some people choose other schools for their children for a variety of reasons, including the desire for religious training that would be inappropriate in a public institution. That’s their choice.

But taking kids out of public schools doesn’t make those taxpayers any more deserving of government assistance than a neighbor who has no children, or one with children who have graduated.

If the goal of this bill’s supporters is to remake the education system into a voucher system that would give families public money to educate their children at the school of their choice, this bill falls far short.

This would just redistribute tax dollars collected from all the state’s residents and channel it to the coffers of a few private nonprofit institutions. It would be a strange choice for a state that is having a hard time meeting all of its obligations and balancing its budget.

Fortunately, there is a Senate. It voted Wednesday to kill this misguided piece of legislation, blocking it from becoming law. That vote leaves the real debate — whether we should change the way that we pay for students’ education — to another day.