D.c. Voucher Plan Would Subsidize Religious Schools With Public Funds, Says Americans United

House Proposal Would Allow Hiring Discrimination With Federal Taxpayer Dollars, Says AU's Lynn

A proposed $75-million school voucher program for the District of Columbia would hurt public education and subsidize discrimination with taxpayer funds, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and backed by the Bush administration, would offer students in Washington, D.C., vouchers of up to $7,500 per year to pay for tuition at religious and other private schools. The measure contains provisions allowing participating private schools to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion and sex.

In addition, the bill would guarantee the right of religious schools to use tax funds for sectarian education and allow them to receive tax funding while still displaying religious symbols and maintaining sectarian language in mission statements and other documents.

"This bill is yet another attempt by President Bush and his allies to move this country toward a system of taxpayer-funded religion," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "This bill is not about helping poor children; it's about undermining church-state separation."

Lynn said he is especially appalled by the effort to allow hiring discrimination with taxpayer dollars. "Under this legislation, people will be required to support schools that could refuse to hire them for being the 'wrong' religion," he said.

If Congress wants to improve education in the nation's capital, Lynn said, it should focus on the public schools.

"Private religious academies serve private religious interests," he said. "They are not accountable to the public. Furthermore, objective studies of existing voucher programs have shown that vouchers do not boost academic performance."

Davis' measure, the D.C. Parental Choice Incentive Act of 2003 (H.R. 2556), is scheduled for mark-up in the House Government Reform Committee July 8 and may face a vote on the full House floor shortly after that. The voucher program would be administered by the U.S. Department of Education through a private entity.

If passed, the measure would be the first voucher plan ever approved by Congress. Many observers believe voucher supporters in Congress see it as a national prototype.

"Allowing taxpayer-funded religious discrimination and giving tax money to private schools with no accountability and oversight is not going to help students in Washington, D.C.," said Lynn. "Students there need real solutions, not political stunts designed to advance misguided 'faith-based initiatives. '"

Americans United for Separation of Church and State 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.

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.