Senate should Reject Lieberman School Voucher Amendment

Watchdog Group Says Continued Federal Funding For D.C. Religious Schools Undermines Constitution, Hurts Public Education

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged the Senate to reject an amendment reauthorizing Washington, D.C.’s controversial school voucher program.

The District of Columbia voucher plan was initially authorized in 2004 as a five-year experiment. Studies indicate that the program has been academically unsuccessful and marred by problems, but supporters are trying to breathe new life into it.

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) has introduced an amendment to the jobs bill that would reauthorize the voucher plan. A Senate floor vote may take place as early as today.

“The D.C. voucher experiment has been an abject failure,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It has fallen far short of its goals for boosting achievement among the targeted population. It also forces taxpayers to support religious schools against their will and draws attention away from legitimate public education reforms.”

The federally funded program, promoted heavily by the Bush administration, passed the House of Representatives by a single vote in 2004 on a night when many voucher opponents were away from the floor. 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.

Lynn called on Congress to stop wasting time and money on the voucher plan and focus on a strategy for improving public education for all D.C. students. He noted that most of the private schools taking part in the plan are sectarian in nature and not accountable to the public.

“Using tax money to funnel a small percentage of D.C. students into religious schools isn’t an answer, it’s a cop-out,” Lynn said. “We need a solution that helps every student in the nation’s capital. This isn’t it.”

In a letter sent to every senator today, Americans United pointed out the flaws in the D.C. voucher plan.

“On all counts -- improving achievement, using funds effectively, providing opportunities for students in schools in need of improvement, and improving public schools -- the D.C. voucher program has failed,” observes the letter. “Accordingly, reauthorizing the program is unjustified.”

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.