A House appropriations subcommittee holds hearings today on whether to renew Washington, D.C.'s school voucher scheme. The "Opportunity Scholarship Program," which has an annual budget of $15 million, provides 1,900 vouchers worth up to $7,500 each for students to attend religious and other private schools in the nation's capital.
President George W. Bush has allocated $18 million for the program in FY 2009, and a Washington Post editorial yesterday urged Congress to renew and expand the federally funded voucher boondoggle.
"We would hope," the Post editors say, "that Congress would recognize certain truths" about the voucher program.
I'd hope the editors of a leading national newspaper would check the facts before they take a position on such an important issue.
Vouchers, the editorial says, are "supported by District leaders and embraced by their constituents." That's actually not true. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, as the editorial notes, is a fierce opponent.
The District's non-voting representative in Congress said in a 2007 letter to the Post that the voucher scheme was "imposed...against the will of the majority of elected officials and residents." Indeed, District voters have long opposed vouchers for religious and other private schools.
A voucher-like referendum on the ballot in 1981 was crushed 89 percent to 11 percent -- the largest defeat in the history of school-aid referenda. A 2002 Zogby International poll found that more than 75 percent of D.C. voters opposed vouchers; 85 percent of African-American voters opposed siphoning funds from public schools.
The Post apparently hopes Congress won't find out that vouchers don't improve education. A comprehensive performance evaluation by the Department of Education in 2007 found "no evidence of a statistically significant difference in test scores" between voucher recipients and their peers in D.C. public schools.
It's almost as if the editors go out of their way to ignore that fact. They urge Congress not to "blow apart the educational hopes of hundreds of D.C. children" because so many are "quite happily" enrolled in the program.
Since when do kids get into college because they are "happy" with their lackluster achievement and test scores?
The report also contradicts the Post's assertion that former public school students are happy with the program. While parents may feel better about their children's education, the report found, "students who [received vouchers] did not report being more satisfied with school or feeling safer in school."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State and 24 other educational, religious and civil liberties organizations sent a letter yesterday to Rep. José E. Serrano, chairman of the House Subcommittee that will consider renewing the voucher program today.
"In addition to the lack of academic evidence supporting the program," the organizations wrote, "a U.S. Government Accountability Office report also documented several accountability shortcomings in the program, including federal taxpayer dollars funding tuition at private schools that do not even charge tuition, schools that lacked city occupancy permits, and schools employing teachers without bachelor's degrees."
The Post didn't mention those facts, either.
There are many reasons to let this voucher scheme expire. I can only hope Congress takes the experts' advice over the Post's.