By Sandhya Bathija
It’s a gorgeous spring day in Washington today. Sadly, it’s likely to be an ugly day for church-state separation.
This afternoon, both houses of Congress are expected to vote on a budget deal that includes federal taxpayer funding to reauthorize and expand the Washington, D.C., school voucher program.
In advance of the vote, the National Coalition for Public Education, with the American Association of University Women (AAUW) taking a lead role, has organized a press conference at 1 p.m. today, where my boss Barry W. Lynn will speak on why D.C. vouchers are a bad idea.
He will be joining D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and speakers from the AAUW, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, the D.C. chapter of the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, the NAACP Washington Bureau and D.C. For Democracy.
All will speak out against the closed-door deal made between House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats to extend the voucher plan as part of the budget “compromise,” even while $38 billion is being cut from other federal programs. (The deal also includes a provision barring D.C. from using its own money to pay for abortions for poor women.)
As you probably know, the so-called D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program funnels taxpayer funds to religious and other private schools. Reauthorizing the program, which began to be phased out after a failed five-year run, has been a pet project for Boehner. While allocating $100 million for religious schools over the next five years, the budget deal is expected to cut up to $80 million from D.C. public schools, courts and other public institutions.
The deal has particularly angered D.C. residents, who feel they have been collateral damage, considering the district has no vote in Congress.
I plan to head over to the conference to talk with news media representatives and hear the speakers remind our members of Congress what they’ve negotiated away with this budget deal.
In his remarks, Lynn plans to call out vouchers for what they really are: a modern-day religion tax.
Here is a little preview of Lynn’s scheduled comments:
“The voucher plan runs afoul of laws in D.C. designed to protect civil rights. Completely privately funded religious schools can hire and fire based on the commands of their faith. They can fire you if you’re gay. They can fire you if you get a divorce. They can fire you for failing to show up at church. American taxpayers do not want to support these noxious forms of discrimination. Voucher supporters talk about ‘choice.’ Where is the choice for the student whose parents don’t want religion imposed on her? Where is the choice for the teacher suddenly out of a job because he ran afoul of a religious requirement?”
Lynn will also remind the audience that D.C. vouchers have been an academic failure and are merely part of an ideological agenda opposed to public schools.
The sun may be shining outside today, but it’s likely to be a dark day for church-state separation.