D.C. Voucher Program Appears Funded Despite Widespread Opposition, Serious Flaws

June 28, 2012

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) has been working the past couple weeks with the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE)—a group comprised of 60 church-state, civil rights, and education organizations—to urge members of Congress to reject any funding for a controversial voucher program that funnels taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, it seems our concerns have been pushed aside, and the program will receive new funding. 

With discussions on funding for the so-called District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program heating up, the NCPE wrote leaders of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees on June 14 and 20, respectively, to outline two central problems with the concept:

First, the D.C. voucher program diverts taxpayer money from public schools to religious schools and wrongly forces taxpayers to support religion. Indeed, the Department of Education reports that 82 percent of students participating in this program attend religious schools. These schools often indoctrinate students and discriminate in hiring. To make matters worse, voucher funds would otherwise go to public schools that badly need them.

Second, four different studies by the Department of Education concluded that the program does not improve academic achievement. In fact, all four studies found that students from “schools in need of improvement,” which are the students targeted by the program, showed no improvement in reading or math due to the voucher program. The final study confirmed that vouchers had no significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading.

Despite our efforts, both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees have since approved funding for the program—$13.5 million in the Senate, $20 million in the House—after voucher proponents, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman and House Speaker John Boehner, won at least one more year of support for the program. 

The committees have apparently also agreed to expand the program from 1,615 students to 1,700 after striking a deal with President Barack Obama, who was originally opposed to the program and worked to phase it out in 2009. For what it’s worth, the Obama adminstration maintains that it is opposed vouchers, and that the “deal” was necessary to make the program amenable to a new scientific study already mandated by Congress.

However, this result is still disappointing. CFI will remain vigilant in fighting taxpayer funding for religious schools and let you know when your voice is needed to help defeat these unconstitutional and ineffective programs.

To download the NCPE’s Senate letter, click here.

To download the NCPE’s House letter, click here.