Legislative Update: Congress Deliberates Future Of DC Voucher Program

Now there’s evidence of another weakness with the program: A new Department of Education study largely debunks the fiction that the program provides a lifeline for kids seeking to escape from failing schools.

We’ve highlighted the numerous shortcomings of the Washington, D.C., private school voucher program on this blog many times. We’ve described the program’s lack of adherence to civil rights laws, absence of accountability measures, and failure to improve academic achievement or provide adequate resources for students. The program also violates religious freedom by continually funneling federal taxpayer dollars to private, religious schools.

Now there’s evidence of another weakness with the program: A new Department of Education study largely debunks the fiction that the program provides a lifeline for kids seeking to escape from failing schools.

According to the study, most parents who accept and use vouchers were actually happy with the schools their children attended at the time they were offered the voucher.  In fact, in the study’s survey of 2,268 parents who applied to the voucher program, 57% of parents gave their child’s current school a grade of “A” or “B,” and only 14% gave those schools a grade of “D” or “F.” And 66% of parents were satisfied with the school their child was already attending based on the element they indicated was their top priority for choosing a new school.

If parents are already satisfied with the school their child is attending, there’s no real justification for giving them a federally funded school voucher to attend a private school.

At the same time, the parents surveyed ranked “academic quality” as their top factor for choosing a private school. But when asked what they’re most dissatisfied with at the school their child had attended, parents only ranked “academic quality” third – after both “observe religious traditions” and “class size.”

D.C. already has a robust charter school program and the District’s public schools have been improving steadily, making it the fastest improving urban school district in the country. That’s likely why so many parents in this study are actually happy with their schools.

And if parents wish to send their children to private schools, they should do so on their own dime. Their decision shouldn’t be financed by taxpayer dollars---which could otherwise benefit the city’s public and charter schools.

But despite the lack of evidence to support continuation of the D.C. voucher program, Congress is once again attempting to reauthorize it.

Last year, the U.S. House passed a bill to reauthorize the program. That bills still awaits action in the Senate. But in an unusual move, the House has decided to push forward on a second, nearly identical bill, H.R. 4901, to reauthorize the program.

On April 14, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a markup of H.R. 4901. During the markup, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) criticized the committee for the unnecessary move, and voiced her outrage at Congress’ insistence on reauthorizing a program that has failed to improve education for children in the District. She further noted that Congress has never approved a national school voucher plan, but is fine with pursuing one for DC. Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), and Representative Gerry Connelly (D-Va.) also spoke out against the bill.

Unfortunately, H.R. 4901 passed by voice vote. We will continue to watch the bill as it moves through the House and oppose the reauthorization of the DC voucher program.