The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

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

Americans United Joins Public Education Allies in Seeking End to DC School Voucher Plan


Americans United for Separation of Church and State has joined
allies in the public education community to demand that Washington,
D.C.'s federally funded private school voucher "experiment" not be

Americans United says the program, which pays for tuition at
religious and other private schools, was originally conceived as a
five-year pilot program. The plan, pushed through by the Bush
administration, has failed to boost student achievement, and AU insists
it should be discontinued.

"When an experiment proves unsuccessful, the best thing to do is
shut it down," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of
Americans United. "Rather than try to breathe new life into the failed
D.C. voucher plan, Congress should focus on ways to improve the city's
public schools."

Americans United reiterated these themes in a letter
submitted to Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins
(R-Maine), chairman and ranking member respectively of the Senate
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

The committee has scheduled a May 13 hearing on the D.C. voucher plan.

Although the program is slated to end, some members of Congress want
to reauthorize it. Americans United and allied groups say the best
course is to discontinue the program.

"In addition to raising constitutional and civil rights concerns,
the D.C. voucher program has simply proven ineffective and thus should
not be extended," observes the AU letter. "Indeed, extending the
program would defy the lessons learned from the pilot - that vouchers
do not improve the education of D.C. students."

Most of the private schools taking part in the voucher plan are
religious. Americans United argues that taxpayers should not be
required to fund sectarian institutions.

Americans United also worked with the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) on a separate letter that was submitted to the committee.

The coalition letter pointed out that studies of the D.C. voucher
plan have shown that the program failed to improve the academic
performance of students considered most in need of help. In addition,
voucher schools were much less likely to provide services like English
as a second language, learning support, special-needs programs and

The NCPE missive went on to note that there are serious accountability problems with the program.

"NCPE believes the objective evidence does not support the
reauthorization or continued funding of the only federally funded
school voucher program," asserted the joint letter. "Therefore, we urge
you to oppose reauthorization of the D.C. voucher program."

Thirty-seven education, public policy and religious organizations
signed the NCPE letter. Among them are the American Federation of
Teachers, the Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for
Religious Liberty, the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the
NAACP, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the
National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the
National Parent Teacher Association, the Secular Coalition for America
and the Union for Reform Judaism.

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.