Failed D.C. School Voucher Program Should Be Abandoned

| by AUSCS

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has joined allies in the public education community to demand that Washington, D.C.’s federally funded private school voucher “experiment” not be extended.

Americans United says the program, which pays for tuition at religious and other private schools, was originally conceived as a five-year pilot program. The plan, pushed through by the Bush administration, has failed to boost student achievement, and AU insists it should be discontinued.

“When an experiment proves unsuccessful, the best thing to do is shut it down,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Rather than try to breathe new life into the failed D.C. voucher plan, Congress should focus on ways to improve the city’s public schools.”

Americans United reiterated these themes in a letter submitted to Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman and ranking member respectively of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The committee has scheduled a May 13 hearing on the D.C. voucher plan.

Although the program is slated to end, some members of Congress want to reauthorize it. Americans United and allied groups say the best course is to discontinue the program.

“In addition to raising constitutional and civil rights concerns, the D.C. voucher program has simply proven ineffective and thus should not be extended,” observes the AU letter. “Indeed, extending the program would defy the lessons learned from the pilot – that vouchers do not improve the education of D.C. students.”

Most of the private schools taking part in the voucher plan are religious. Americans United argues that taxpayers should not be required to fund sectarian institutions.

Americans United also worked with the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) on a separate letter that was submitted to the committee.

The coalition letter pointed out that studies of the D.C. voucher plan have shown that the program failed to improve the academic performance of students considered most in need of help. In addition, voucher schools were much less likely to provide services like English as a second language, learning support, special-needs programs and counselors.

The NCPE missive went on to note that there are serious accountability problems with the program.

“NCPE believes the objective evidence does not support the reauthorization or continued funding of the only federally funded school voucher program,” asserted the joint letter. “Therefore, we urge you to oppose reauthorization of the D.C. voucher program.”

Read the Opposing Views debate, Should Cities and States Adopt School Voucher Programs?