D.C. Voucher Program Has Failed To Yield Positive Results, AU Tells Senate Committee

Program Is Constitutionally Suspect And Provides Incentive To Attend Discriminatory Religious Schools, Watchdog Group Asserts

Washington, D.C.’s federally funded school voucher plan has not improved student performance for targeted students and serves mainly to subsidize religious education with tax funds, Americans United for Separation of Church and State told a Senate subcommittee today.

Americans United offered written testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations’ Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. In its observations, AU asserted that the voucher program, which pays tuition at religious and other private schools, has proved detrimental to education in the nation’s capital.

“Quite simply, the D.C. voucher program has failed,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “We believe it’s time to shut it down and move on.”

The controversial program, promoted heavily by the Bush administration, passed the House of Representatives by one vote in 2004 on a night when many voucher opponents were away from that chamber. Republicans held the vote open for more than 40 minutes to gather the necessary votes. It later cleared the Senate only as a result of a procedural move.

In its testimony, AU traced the history of the program and noted that objective studies by the U.S. Department of Education show that voucher students from troubled public schools show no significant improvement in reading or math achievement when they enter the voucher program.

Furthermore, the program permits religious schools to discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring staff and fails to provide parents with a true choice. Parents may even be steered toward religious schools.

“The D.C. voucher program has not improved the D.C. school system and has not improved the educational achievement of D.C. voucher participants,” asserts the testimony. “Furthermore, the program is constitutionally suspect. The federal government should be funding public schools rather than funneling taxpayer funds to private schools that lack accountability, religious liberty and civil rights standards.”

The program was due to expire last year, although Congress has continued to fund it, and President Barack Obama has proposed extending funding of the plan for students already in it until they graduate. Under Obama’s proposal, no new students would enter the program.

Americans United says the voucher scheme should be allowed to expire.  

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.