Rep. Boehner, Sen. Lieberman to Resurrect DC Religious School Vouchers

January 28, 2011

House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Joe Lieberman have announced plans to introduce legislation to revive a controversial school voucher program that funnels tax dollars to private and religious schools in the District of Columbia, nearly two years after Congress began phasing it out. 

On Tuesday night, Boehner invited several guests from DC's Catholic schools to share the Speaker's Box at the State of the Union address , including Cardinal Donald Wuerl and several Catholic teachers and students who are receiving tax dollars to attend private religious schools through the voucher program.  At a press conference Boehner said the voucher program is a model that other cities across the nation should follow.  He told those assembled that "It should be expanded, not ended."

CFI and other church-state separation advocates have criticized the program for providing taxpayer subsidies to schools that indoctrinate students and discriminate in hiring, while also draining funds from public schools that badly need them.  Diverting federal funds to private religious schools effectively forces taxpayers to subsidize religion.  Although most of the private schools that will likely benefit under the voucher scheme are operated by the Catholic Church, Baptist, Adventist and Islamic schools are also expected to participate.

President Obama defunded the voucher experiment in 2009 after it proved to be a failure.  Four studies by the Department of Education concluded the program does not improve academic achievement. The final study confirmed that the use of a voucher had no significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading.  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.

Religious schools are not subject to many rules that safeguard religious liberty and civil rights in public schools.  Under the DC voucher scheme, taxpayer funded religious schools were free to discriminate against student applicants on the basis of academic ability, disability, economic status and a wide variety of other factors.  Teachers, administrators and staff at religious schools can be chosen on the basis of religious affiliation, marital status, sexual orientation and other factors unrelated to their professional merits.  Many religious schools also require students to participate in worship and infuse their curricula with dogmatic religious teachings.  Biology, history and sex education courses are often skewed to reflect the school's religious doctrines.

CFI believes taxpayers should not be forced to support religion through public funding of private schools.  CFI's Office of Public Policy will actively oppose Sen. Lieberman's and Speaker Boehner's attempts to resurrect the failed voucher experiment.



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