House Panel Mulls D.C. Voucher Extension

Americans United and a coalition of educational and civil liberties groups have urged Congress not to renew a controversial school voucher program that operates in Washington, D.C.

The $15 million program, which pays for tuition at religious and other private schools, was launched five years ago and is slated to expire later this year unless it is renewed. A congressionally mandated evaluation conducted last year found no significant academic differences between voucher students and those attending D.C. public schools.

In late April, the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, urging members to let the program expire. The letter noted that despite the program’s lack of success, President George W. Bush has proposed increasing its budget by $3 million.

“NCPE believes that money should instead be invested in the public schools,” reads the letter. “We also note that despite receiving public money, the participating private schools are not subject to all federal civil rights laws, and do not face the same public accountability standards, including those in the No Child Left Behind Act that all public schools face.”

Concludes the letter, “We also believe this program continues to raise problems under the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

The NCPE consists of 25 organizations that support public education. Among them are Americans United, the American Association of University Women, the American Jewish Committee, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.