Jul 14, 2011

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has joined 52 educational, religious and public policy groups in calling on Congress not to divert taxpayer dollars to religious and other private schools in the District of Columbia.

Americans United and other organizations in the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) wrote to each member of the House of Representatives to express their opposition to an appropriations bill provision that funds a school voucher program in Washington, D.C.

The 2012 Financial Services Appropriations bill (H.R. 2434) would provide $20 million for D.C.’s controversial voucher scheme, even though the program has not been found to be effective in improving educational outcomes for participating students.

“Vouchers don’t work, and they compel taxpayers to subsidize religion,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “At a time when members of Congress are supposedly focused on cutting federal spending, pouring taxpayer money into this boondoggle is nothing short of irresponsible.”

The D.C. program was originally authorized in 2003 as a five-year pilot. After it expired, President Barack Obama agreed to allow participating students to remain in the program but no new students were added. However, the plan was fully reauthorized in 2011 at the insistence of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

The July 13 NCPE letter says funding for the voucher program shows misplaced priorities.

“At a time when Congress is considering cutting trillions of dollars from the federal budget, it should not be spending millions of taxpayer dollars for a small number of students to attend private schools,” observes the letter.

The letter goes on to say, “NCPE believes that instead of sending federal taxpayer money to private schools, these funds should be invested in the public schools. We also note that despite receiving public money, the participating private schools are not subject to all federal civil rights laws and public accountability standards, including those in the No Child Left Behind Act, that all public schools must meet. Finally, we also believe this program continues to raise problems under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”