Low Post: Newspaper Shoots And Misses On School Vouchers – Again!

The newspaper has essentially said those who oppose vouchers are liars.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I- Conn.) can definitely count on The Washington Post to lend a hand when it comes to his crusade for school vouchers in the District of Columbia.

Today, the Post added to the seemingly endless stream of editorials it has already published in support of the D.C. voucher program, which uses federal funds to pay for tuition at religious and other private schools.

This time, the newspaper’s intent is to garner support for Lieberman’s amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration bill that would extend and expand the failed D.C. “experiment.”

The pilot voucher program expired in 2008, and since then, Congress has only allotted funds to allow students already in the program to use a voucher through their high school graduation.  The Post, and Lieberman, want to see the program expanded to new students.

Lieberman’s intentions in pushing for D.C. vouchers are obvious -- he is driven by ideology.

But I really cannot understand why the newspaper has such a vested stake in the issue. The Post’s editorial writers have written on the issue repeatedly and claim to have the best interests of D.C’s children at heart. But if that were the case, they wouldn’t be so blind to the facts.

The newspaper has essentially said those who oppose vouchers are liars.

Today’s editorial even mentions Americans United by name and calls us out for being wrong. We consider this a backhanded compliment. We’re thankful to be recognized for the hard work we have done in opposing vouchers.

But the Post’s assertions notwithstanding, our legislative department has done extensive research on this issue, and we know we are not wrong.

First, the Post claims we are inaccurate in claiming vouchers have been unsuccessful. To prove that point, the newspaper provides a quote from a U.S. Department of Education investigator who stated, “The D.C. voucher program has proven to be the most effective education policy evaluated by the federal government’s official education research arm so far.”

While this person may have said this, it hardly stands up against solid evidence.  According the department’s studies, results in 2007 and 2008 showed no statistically significant academic improvement for voucher students. And for students who come from “Schools in Need of Improvement” – the target population for the program – the 2009 study indicated no academic improvement for a third year in a row.

Second, the Post argues that the voucher program has not hurt public schools by taking away resources. But I don’t see how anyone could make this claim, considering federal funds that could have gone to public schools have instead been used to pay tuition for a minimal number of students. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to use that additional money to set up initiatives or programs within public schools that could have helped all students?

And finally, the Post insists that it is not inappropriate to use public money for religious schools, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, which upheld a voucher program in Ohio. But once again, the Post fails to tell the whole story.

In Zelman, the court upheld the Cleveland voucher program because students could pick from a breadth of choices in schools, including charter and magnet schools, not just religious schools.

But the structure of the D.C. program is different than that in Cleveland.  This program actually gives an incentive to parents to choose religious schools because those schools will not cost them any additional money.  Under this voucher scheme, students are given limited funds that really only cover religious school tuition, not elite private schools. According to a Government Accountability Office report, because voucher students only receive a low amount for tuition, 75 percent of D.C. voucher students attend schools costing less than $7,500 – the going rate for a D.C. parochial school.

In fact, 82 percent of D.C. voucher students attended religious schools in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And according to the Catholic Standard, 879 of the 1700 D.C. students enrolled in the voucher program last year attended Catholic schools.

Besides, even if the D.C. voucher program were permissible under Zelman, that doesn’t make it good policy.

Still, the Post will continue to ignore these facts and persist in trying to influence the public through its inaccurate editorials.

And Americans United, along with our allies in the National Coalition for Public Education, will continue to expose the truth about the voucher program. When Lieberman’s amendment comes up for a vote (perhaps as early as today), we hope to have at least convinced our senators on why vouchers have been bad for our nation’s capital.

If you want to help, let the Senate know you want a NO vote on the Lieberman amendment by sending an e-mail or calling your senators through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.