Senate Voucher Victory!: Religious School Subsidy Defeated, But The Fight Isn’t Over

It is great to see such a resounding vote rejecting a scheme that serves mainly to funnel taxpayer dollars to religious schools. But even though this recent voucher plot flopped, it is certainly not the last we are likely to hear about this issue in Congress.

There has been a lot of talk lately by some lawmakers about creating a national federal voucher for religious and other private schools. But until last week, not much had come of it.

Americans United is happy to report that during a marathon session on Friday to consider amendments to the U.S. Senate’s 2014 budget proposal, a measure that would have endorsed school vouchers was soundly defeated 39-60.

The amendment, which was offered by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), received bipartisan disapproval with all Democrats and six Republicans voting against it.  

Americans United worked hard to oppose the voucher boondoggle, sending out an action alert to our members ahead of the vote, asking them to tell their senators to just say no to vouchers. AU also led the National Coalition for Public Education, which it co-chairs, in its fight against vouchers and signed onto a NCPE letter to the Senate.

The letter explained to lawmakers why vouchers are so problematic and encouraged all senators to vote against any amendments that would establish federal vouchers.  

It is great to see such a resounding vote rejecting a scheme that serves mainly to funnel taxpayer dollars to religious schools. But even though this recent voucher plot flopped, it is certainly not the last we are likely to hear about this issue in Congress.

In fact, several other amendments similar to the one proposed by Alexander and Paul were floating around the Senate but never made it to a vote. It’s unlikely the lawmakers who supported them won’t try again later.

Then there’s the recent GOP “autopsy” report that recommended “school choice,” which is just a code phrase for vouchers, as a way to attract Hispanic voters to the party.

This plan appears to be in motion already, as U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) seems to be on a voucher crusade. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Cantor said he wants to “create some type of competitive mechanisms” for education – a euphemism for vouchers.

According to The New York Times, Cantor characterized the proposal as a way to help gifted children of struggling single mothers get away from under-performing public schools.

Cantor followed up those January remarks with a Feb. 4 visit to the Preparatory School of D.C., a religious school that gets federal tax dollars through a controversial voucher plan targeting the District of Columbia.

During a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington the following day, Cantor praised that school and said “one of our priorities this year will be to move heaven and earth to fix our education system for the most vulnerable” and to “expand choices” for all students. 

Cantor has also praised Louisiana’s deplorable voucher scheme, which is currently being reviewed by that state’s Supreme Court. Earlier this month while visiting the Pelican State, Cantor celebrated Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “tremendous” program as a model for a future federal voucher schemes.

The bottom line is that vouchers are a never-ending battle. Although most Americans say they don’t want them, some lawmakers think they are a great way to pander to segments of the electorate while subsidizing religious schools.

Americans United will continue to fight against any and all “school choice” schemes that divert taxpayer dollars to religious schools, but we can’t do it alone. It’s critical that you tell your lawmakers at the state and federal level how you feel about your hard-earned money being used to support religion. (Not sure what to say? Here are some tips.)  

If enough people speak out against vouchers, hopefully lawmakers will pay attention. It’s going to take time and persistence, but we will succeed.