U.S. Senate Should Reject Ensign School Voucher Proposal, Says AU

Watchdog Group Says Washington, D.C., Program Forces Taxpayers To Fund Religious Schools And Diverts Attention From Public School Improvement

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has called on the Senate to reject Sen. John Ensign’s proposal to extend Washington, D.C.’s private school voucher plan.

The program, Americans United asserts, funds religious schools, diverts attention from public school improvement and has not raised student achievement.

“The sad truth is, this fight is not about helping kids in D.C. or anywhere else,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s about ideology. Some people just don’t like public schools and want to use vouchers to funnel public funds to religious and other private schools.

“The American people have rejected this approach over and over again at the ballot box,” Lynn continued. “The Senate should reject school vouchers as well. Our focus should be on improving public schools, not undercutting them through vouchers.”

D.C.’s federally funded voucher plan was foisted on the District of Columbia by private school advocates in the Bush administration in 2004. It was initially funded by Congress for five years as an experiment.

The program is due to expire this year, but some senators, notably U.S. Sens. Ensign (R-Nev.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), are pushing to continue it. 

Ensign has put forward Amendment 615 to the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill (H.R. 1105) that would have the effect of extending the program. The matter could face a Senate vote as early as Monday.

Lynn noted that some voucher supporters have resorted to extreme rhetoric. Yesterday, DeMint said during a news conference that most D.C. public school students end up joining gangs.

“If you send a kid to [public] school in D.C., chances are that they will end up in a gang rather than graduating,” DeMint said.

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.

AU’s letter notes 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.

In addition, a November 2007 report by the General Accounting Office 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.

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.