The fight in Congress over private school voucher schemes will begin in earnest tomorrow when a House committee will vote on a bill to renew the only existing federally funded voucher program.
The legislation under consideration deals directly with school vouchers in Washington, D.C., but the program impacts all taxpayers throughout the country. Everyone should pay attention to what’s said because the push is on by President Donald J. Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to keep his campaign promise to expand vouchers nationwide.
Voucher programs, though, are a bad idea. They divert desperately needed resources away from the public school system to fund the education of a few voucher students. In addition, voucher programs have proven ineffective, lack accountability to taxpayers, deprive students of rights provided to public school students and threaten religious liberty.
D.C’s voucher program – formally called the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program – has all of these problems and more. On top of it all, the program is federally funded. That means everyone’s tax dollars, even if you don’t live in the District of Columbia, are paying for the $20 million that’s been earmarked annually for vouchers to send D.C. students to private, predominantly religious schools. Trump, DeVos and congressional leadership are currently fighting to renew this program even though it has proven to be a complete failure.
The program has been the subject of not just one, but four U.S. Department of Education studies. And the results demonstrate why this program shouldn’t be renewed: There has been “no statistically significant overall impact of the Program on reading or math achievement.” On top of those studies, two Government Accountability Office reports show major accountability problems.
The test results have been in: Vouchers don't work. Congress should vote "no" to renewing the D.C. voucher program.
This is no real surprise considering vouchers have proven to be ineffective and to lack accountability across the country. In fact, a recent New York Times article featured three new studies that show vouchers in Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio have led to students performing worse than students in the public schools.
The D.C. program has many other serious problems, including that it primarily funds religious schools and it denies students civil rights protections they would otherwise receive in the public schools.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the D.C. voucher for those who live in the District is they don’t have representatives who can vote in Congress. This program has been forced on D.C. residents by members of Congress who live outside the District. D.C. Councilmember David Grosso today sent a letter of opposition signed by the majority of D.C.'s councilmembers to the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee that will oversee tomorrow's markup of the voucher bill.
There are things you can do to fight back, too. Contact your U.S. representative and tell him or her to oppose all private school voucher programs.