ACLU Urges Congress To Reject Voucher Scheme in District of Columbia; Says Plan Hurts Already Disadvantaged Kids
June 24, 2003
WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union today told lawmakers that if they approve a voucher program for the District of Columbia they will be funneling money away from an already debt-ridden public school system, putting most of the District's almost 80,000 public school students at a further disadvantage.
"If Congress really wants to help our children, it should seek to adequately fund the public school system, not disadvantage the vast majority of kids for the benefit of a select and privileged few," said Terri Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Representative. "Vouchers are unproven and ultimately counter-productive in the fight to reform and improve our education system in America."
The D.C. voucher scheme was the subject of a hearing today in the full House Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA). The plan would allow certain District students to obtain tax vouchers to pay for private or parochial school education. Current estimates show that only between 2,000 and 4,000 students -- out of the almost 80,000 in the nation's capital -- could benefit from the program, which would sap significant amounts of money from the public school system.
Additionally, those 4,000 students would be attending schools exempt from accountability standards in the "No Child Left Behind" education legislation, passed in 2002. While the nation's public schools are required to hire highly qualified teachers, open statistics on students' academic achievement to the public, guarantee academic progress and account for every tax dollar they spend, private and religious schools receiving federal funds through a voucher program will not be held to any such standards.
The voucher program would also encourage the violation of students' civil rights. The private and religious schools that would receive tax money through vouchers would not have to comply with federal, state or local civil rights laws -- meaning that they could discriminate against students based on, among other things, religion and disability.
In practice, vouchers have never been shown to be effective in either increasing students' academic achievement or even in giving parents a "choice" in what school their child attends, the most popular argument in favor of vouchers. Studies in both New York City and Cleveland, cities that have instituted voucher programs, have shown no difference in achievement between voucher or public school systems. As for the promise of school choice, it is an illusion, the ACLU said, as the decision whether to admit a particular student remains with the private school itself.
"Congress has a responsibility to protect the best interests of this nation's youth," Schroeder said. "Our nation's capital deserves better than the rampant discrimination and civil rights abuses in its school system that would follow from a voucher scheme."
The ACLU's letter on the voucher plan can be found at: http://www.aclu.org/ReligiousLiberty/ReligiousLiberty.cfm?ID=12588&c=140