July/August 2012 Church & State | People & Events

The battle over Washington, D.C.’s school voucher plan is heating up again.

The controversial program, which has been in effect since it was pushed through Congress in 2004, funnels $20 million annually in taxpayer money to private schools in the nation’s capital, most of which are religious in nature.

The scheme was originally designed to last for just five years. President Barack Obama opposes the program but relented to demands from congressional Republicans to continue funding for students currently taking part in it.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is now demanding that the program be expanded to include new students. Boehner recently issued a press release asserting that Obama has refused to fully implement the law and has put an artificial cap on the number of students who can take part.

Boehner is also upset because Obama’s 2013 budget includes no money for the program.

Opponents of the voucher scheme point out that objective studies have shown that it does not boost the academic performance of the targeted population. Americans United and other groups have called for the program to be shut down.

House Republicans are increasingly playing up the voucher issue. On May 16, a House education subcommittee held a show hearing designed to give “school choice” proponents a platform. The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, And Secondary Education is led by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a voucher booster.

Among the speakers was Kevin Chavous, a former D.C. politician who now serves as a senior advisor to the American Federation for Children, a voucher front group run by right-wing multi-millionaire Betsy DeVos.

The National Coalition for Public Education, a coalition of advocacy organizations that includes Americans United, submitted written testimony to the subcommittee.

Observed the Coalition, “Vouchers divert desperately needed resources away from the public school system to fund the education of a few select voucher students with limited, if any, real impact on student academic achievement. Congress would better serve ALL children by using scarce federal funds to make the public schools stronger and safer than by creating a new voucher program.”

The voucher issue may flare up during the presidential campaign. On May 23, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney gave a speech on education issues and backed a nationwide voucher plan.

Romney asserted that many children in America get a “third-world education” and called vouchers “the civil rights issue of our era.”

The former Massachusetts governor blasted teachers’ unions and said he would implement a plan that would spur “choice” among public, charter and private schools.