January 2013 Church & State | Editorial


In 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives pushed through a school voucher program for Washington, D.C., with the vote occurring at night when many members were absent. The Sen­­ate concurred, and President George W. Bush signed it into law.

The plan, which paid for tuition at religious and other private schools, was pitched as a five-year “experiment” just to see if vouchers would boost academic performance. It didn’t take long to get the answer to that question: Study after study showed that vouchers failed to help the targeted population.

A 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Education, for example, found “no conclusive evidence” that students receiving vouchers showed improved math and reading test scores over their public school peers. The experiment, it seems, had failed.

So the voucher plan was shut down in 2009, right? Nope. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) used the scheme as a bargaining chip during budget negotiations with President Barack Obama. The misbegotten program gained new life and is still stumbling along today.

A recent Washington Post study of private schools taking part in the plan uncovered a litany of disturbing facts. Vouchers are pegged at $8,000-$12,000, so they don’t even come close to paying the annual tuition at exclusive private schools in the region – most of which don’t want voucher students anyway.

As a result, vouchers in D.C. have become a taxpayer-funded bailout for struggling Catholic schools or a prop for an array of schools offering questionable education. Some of these schools wouldn’t exist if it were not for voucher subsidies.

One school, the Academy for Ideal Education, is based in part on an educational model known as “Suggestopedia,” which was devised by an obscure Bulgarian psychotherapist named Georgi Lozanov. Its underlying theory is that students can learn by tapping into the power of suggestion.

Another voucher school, the Muhammad University of Islam, is unaccredited; its director freely admits that the school is affiliated with the Nation of Islam, a racially separatist sect with a record of anti-Semi­tism and homophobia.

The Academia de la Recta Porta, described as a non-denominational Christian school, is housed in two rooms in a storefront. The school has no recreational equipment, and students must travel two miles to a community center for gym.

This is a pattern we’ve seen in other states. Because legislators refuse to exercise any serious oversight, fly-by-night schools run by con artists come along. Their main goal is usually to line their pockets with tax money or push some obtuse educational theory. Any education of children that occurs is purely by accident.

The D.C. voucher experiment has failed. In fact, the national voucher experiment has failed. It’s time to shut down these reckless programs and put taxpayer resources back where they belong: in the public school system that is open to all and accountable to all.