Religious Minorities

House Members Demand Accountability For D.C. Voucher Plan

  House Members Demand Accountability For D.C. Voucher Plan

Betsy DeVos is at it again. Not only is the secretary of education working to siphon tens of millions of federal dollars away from public schools and funneling them to private institutions, she is refusing to turn over the documents saying as much. It’s almost like she has something to hide.

On Tuesday, U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-N.C.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-District of Columbia) sent a follow-up  to DeVos demanding compliance with a previous letter the group sent requesting documents related to the D.C. voucher program, a federally funded boondoggle that channels tax money into the coffers of private, mostly religious, schools.

The original letter, sent in March, requested evidence of students in the voucher program being “afforded the same protections as public school students , including by federal civil rights laws and safety regulations.” There’s a good reason for asking about that. Because the vouchers schools are private, they don’t have to abide by the same standards as public schools when it comes to basic issues like non-discrimination and equal treatment. What sort of protections, if any, are these kids getting? It’s a fair question, but it seems that DeVos would rather not answer it.

Additionally, the representatives called for the Department of Education to provide the number of students currently participating in the program and information about the private schools our taxpayer dollars are funding, including religiously-affiliated private schools.

In the follow-up, the representatives were none too happy with DeVos. They wrote, “[Congressional] staff have followed up repeatedly to seek production [of Department of Education documents], but the Department has not complied.”

The three continued, “This continued delay and non-compliance is unacceptable.”

Back in April, Norton told The Washington Post, “We are continuing to send children with no idea how they are doing.” Norton and other critics of the plan have noted that the schools that accept vouchers don’t even have to be accredited institutions.

The D.C. program, pushed by right-wing groups like the Heritage Foundation, was approved by Congress in 2004. It was supposed to be a five-year experiment, but it keeps getting reauthorized – even though studies show it has not boosted student achievement. Americans United has been opposed to the program since its inception. Just this year, a coalition of like-minded organizations which AU co-chairs called for Congress to reject the program’s reauthorization.

 Of course, Betsy DeVos is no stranger to school voucher programs. It was only six months ago she was asking for $5 billion – yes, with a “b” – in funding to go to vouchers for private schools. (Our public schools, which serve 90 percent of America’s children, could use that money.)

 U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has said that Betsy DeVos “keeps pushing her anti-public school agenda despite a clear lack of support from parents, students, teachers and even within her own party.”

And U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from DeVos’ home state of Michigan, railed against the secretary’s voucher policies this past week, saying, “Too many of our children languish in inadequate, ill-equipped schools. Thank you, Betsy DeVos. I really wish she was not from Michigan. I think we should send her back.” (The last sentence was a twist on the president’s recent racist tweets.)

Americans United will continue to oppose efforts by religious extremists to harm public education by diverting taxpayer dollars to unaccountable religious schools. Please join us!

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