AU, Allies Urge Congress Not To Fund D.C. Religious Schools

Congress should not divert taxpayer dollars to religious and other private schools in the District of Columbia, Americans United and 52 educational, religious and public policy groups have told members of the U.S. House.

In a letter sent July 14, AU and the other members of the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) urged the representatives to oppose a provision in the 2010 Financial Services Appropriations bill (H.R. 2434) that funds a school voucher program in Washington, D.C. The measure would provide $20 million for D.C.’s controversial voucher scheme, despite research that shows the program does not improve the math or reading scores of targeted students.

Funding of the voucher program shows misplaced priorities, the NCPE letter asserts.

“At a time when Congress is considering cutting trillions of dollars from the federal budget, it should not be spending millions of taxpayer dollars for a small number of students to attend private schools,” the letter observed.

“NCPE believes that instead of sending federal taxpayer money to private schools, these funds should be invested in the public schools,” continues the letter. “We also note that despite receiving public money, the participating private schools are not subject to all federal civil rights laws and public accountability standards, including those in the No Child Left Behind Act, that all public schools must meet.

“Finally,” the letter concluded, “we also believe this program continues to raise problems under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The D.C. voucher program was originally authorized in 2003 as a five-year pilot. When it expired, President Barack Obama agreed to let participating students remain in the program but said no new students would be admitted. The plan was fully authorized, however, in 2011 after being pushed through by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as part of a budget deal.