The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: (202) 466-3234,Joe Conn,Rob Boston,Sandhya Bathija

US Senate Should Reject Ensign School Voucher Proposal, Says Americans United

Watchdog Group Says Washington, D.C., Program Forces Taxpayers to Fund Religious Schools and Diverts Attention From Public School Improvement


Americans United for Separation of Church and State has called on
the Senate to reject Sen. John Ensign's proposal to extend Washington,
D.C.'s private school voucher plan.

The program, Americans United asserts, funds religious schools,
diverts attention from public school improvement and has not raised
student achievement.

"The sad truth is, this fight is not about helping kids in D.C. or
anywhere else," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of
Americans United. "It's about ideology. Some people just don't like
public schools and want to use vouchers to funnel public funds to
religious and other private schools.

"The American people have rejected this approach over and over again
at the ballot box," Lynn continued. "The Senate should reject school
vouchers as well. Our focus should be on improving public schools, not
undercutting them through vouchers."

D.C.'s federally funded voucher plan was foisted on the District of
Columbia by private school advocates in the Bush administration in
2004. It was initially funded by Congress for five years as an

The program is due to expire this year, but some senators, notably
U.S. Sens. Ensign (R-Nev.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.),
are pushing to continue it.

Ensign has put forward Amendment 615 to the 2009 Omnibus
Appropriations Bill (H.R. 1105) that would have the effect of extending
the program. The matter could face a Senate vote as early as Monday.

Lynn noted that some voucher supporters have resorted to extreme
rhetoric. Yesterday, DeMint said during a news conference that most
D.C. public school students end up joining gangs.

"If you send a kid to [public] school in D.C., chances are that they will end up in a gang rather than graduating," DeMint said.

On March 3, Americans United sent a letter to every senator, urging them to vote against Ensign's amendment.

"Senator Ensign's amendment would open the door to the indefinite
funding of the expired D.C. voucher program even though it has been
proven ineffective, would harm civil rights and civil liberties, and
would strip necessary accountability standards needed to fix identified
problems that exist in the current program," asserted the letter.

AU's letter notes that reports issued by the U.S. Department of
Education in 2007 and 2008 show that the academic achievement of D.C
voucher students is no better than that of students attending D.C.
public schools.

In addition, a November 2007 report by the General Accounting Office
criticized the program, finding that "accountability and internal
control were inadequate."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.