April 2015 Church & State | AU Bulletin

The U.S. Congress is poised to pass the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) without a measure that might have opened the door to a voucher plan.

During debate over the bill, some legislators pushed for a “portability” clause. Portability would allow Title I funds, which are earmarked for public schools, to “follow the child” to private schools.

Critics, including Americans United, condemned the policy as a thinly disguised vehicle for school vouchers. Politico reported that the House of Representatives’ leadership faced so much opposition to the measure they decided not to introduce it at all.

However, U.S. Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) proposed a different measure that would, he claimed, protect religious freedom in public schools. He asserted that the provision would allow teachers to say “Merry Christmas” and pass out candy canes to children in celebration of the holiday.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) opposed the Flores amendment, saying, “Religious freedom means not only are students, teachers and school administrators able to exercise their right to religion, but also that the students should be able to attend public schools free of unwarranted proselytization and coercion in the participation of religious activities.”

The measure passed on a voice vote.

ESEA is now awaiting a final vote in the House. It is an annual funding bill, which means it must be reauthorized in order to ensure continued funding for public schools. If it passes the House, it will proceed to the Senate for a vote.