By Nate Hennagin
Earlier this week, the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) sent letters, signed by 47 organizations, to the House and Senate urging them to oppose recently introduced legislation that would reauthorize and expand the DC voucher program. NCPE, of which AU is a co-chair, is a broad coalition of education, civic, civil rights, and religious organizations devoted to supporting public schools. The Coalition works with government leaders to prevent money from being diverted to private and religious schools through vouchers and tuition tax credits.
The Senate bill, S. 206, was introduced by Senator Lieberman (I-CT) the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address on January 26 and has four other co-sponsors, including Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Accompanying this bill is the House version, H. 471, which was introduced by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). Both legislators have chosen this issue as one of extreme importance, as evidenced by the Speaker making this the only bill he will sponsor this session. Both Speaker Boehner and Senator Lieberman have even referred to school vouchers as the "civil rights issue of today."
We know, however, that this program should not be reauthorized, as vouchers are not the answer to fix the public school system in the District of Columbia, or anywhere. Study after study has shown that the voucher program does not improve academic achievement and has not improved student motivation or engagement. Additionally, students who take part in the voucher program lose access to key services that they were given in the public school system, like tutors, special needs programs, cafeterias, and nurses' offices.
What is most troubling of the DC voucher program is that it lacks many accountability and transparency standards. A 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office showed that in some cases federal funds for the program went to schools that don’t normally charge tuition and some schools employed teachers that did not even have a bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, the program is constitutionally suspect, as public funds go primarily to parochial schools that not only integrate religion into their curriculum, but can discriminate in hiring based on religion.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the District and Senator Lieberman chairs, has also just recently announced that there will be a hearing next Thursday, February 16 about the DC voucher program. The hearing, titled “The Value of Education Choices: Saving the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program,” will feature two panels of witnesses including DC Mayor Vincent Gray, Chair of the DC Council Kwame Brown, and three speakers from pro-voucher organizations.
Please visit AU’s action page to write your members of Congress and urge them to oppose DC vouchers!
You can also learn more by going to the brand new page devoted exclusively to the school voucher issue on AU’s website.