The U.S. Senate should reject a push to revive a controversial school voucher scheme in the District of Columbia, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) today held a hearing on S. 206, a bill that would allocate $20 million to revive and expand the D.C. voucher “experiment” that is now winding down. The program has used federal funds to pay for tuition for some students at religious and other private schools.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “At a time when Congress is trying to cut federal spending, I cannot imagine why this bill is even being considered. Taxpayers’ money should not be directed into the coffers of religious and other private schools.”
Lynn noted that the D.C. voucher experiment has proved to be a failure.
Four studies of the program by the U.S. Department of Education concluded that it did not improve academic achievement. The final report confirmed that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading.
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In addition, all four studies found that students from “schools in need of improvement,” which are the students targeted by the program, showed no improvement in reading or math due to the voucher program.
Despite the program’s lack of success and opposition from Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, some lawmakers have vowed to reauthorize it. A similar voucher bill (H.R. 471) is pending in the House of Representatives, sponsored by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
On Jan. 27, Americans United contacted all members of the House and Senate, urging them to oppose the bills.
In addition, AU has submitted written testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which is overseeing the Lieberman bill.
In its testimony, AU wrote, “Americans United opposes reauthorizing and expanding the DC voucher program not only because it raises constitutional and civil rights concerns, but also because it has simply proven ineffective. Indeed, extending the program would defy the lessons learned from the current pilot program – that vouchers do not improve the education of DC students.”
Lynn noted that most of the private schools that are likely to get funding under the Lieberman/Boehner plan are operated by the Catholic Church. However, Baptist, Adventist and Islamic schools are also expected to participate.
Diversion of federal funds to these schools, Lynn said, effectively forces taxpayers to subsidize religious instruction and employment discrimination. Religious schools are free to indoctrinate children in the sponsoring congregation’s dogma, and teachers and other staff may be hired and fired based on their adherence to religious doctrine.
“No American should be taxed to pay for someone else’s church or church-run school,” Lynn said. “Vouchers are a backdoor religion tax and should be rejected. This scheme undercuts critically important civil rights and civil liberties protections.”