AU Hails Senate Vote Rejecting Indefinite Funding For Washington, D.C., 'Experimental' Voucher Plan

Program Is Unsuccessful And A Distraction From Education Reform, Watchdog Group Says

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today praised the U.S. Senate for refusing to provide funding indefinitely for a controversial private school voucher plan in Washington, D.C.

Americans United asserts that the program, initially funded as a five-year experiment, serves mainly to funnel tax money to religious schools and has not raised student achievement.

“D.C.’s voucher experiment, cooked up in the laboratories of the far right, has failed,” declared the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The Senate did the responsible thing in taking the first steps toward ending this program.”

The federally funded voucher plan was foisted on the District of Columbia by private school advocates in the Bush administration in 2004. The House of Representatives recently approved an omnibus spending bill that included language winding down the pilot program over the next year unless certain steps are taken. Those steps would include congressional reauthorization of funding and approval by the District of Columbia City Council.

It is widely believed that these conditions would be difficult to meet, with the result that the program would end.

U.S. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) put forward Amendment 615 to the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill (H.R. 1105) that would have stripped this language from the bill.

The Ensign amendment faced a vote today and failed by a tally of 58-39.

Lynn noted that voters have repeatedly rejected ballot referenda at the ballot box. Public opinion polls also show that Americans prefer other options to spur education reform.

“The public wants strong, well-funded public schools,” Lynn said. “Vouchers are a distraction from reaching that goal.”

On March 3, Americans United sent a letter to every senator, urging them to vote against Ensign’s amendment.

“Senator Ensign’s amendment would open the door to the indefinite funding of the expired D.C. voucher program even though it has been proven ineffective, would harm civil rights and civil liberties, and would strip necessary accountability standards needed to fix identified problems that exist in the current program,” asserted the letter.

Americans United noted that reports issued by the U.S. Department of Education in 2007 and 2008 show that the academic achievement of D.C voucher students is no better than that of students attending D.C. public schools. A November 2007 report by the General Accounting Office also criticized the program, finding that “accountability and internal control were inadequate.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.