The Washington, DC public school system is the most expensive yet produces the worst results in the nation. Taxpayers pay an average of $28,170 per pupil annually, but only 12 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading and only 8 percent in math. Because our the education system rations which school students are allowed to attended based on the street address of their parents, many poor families have no choice but to enroll their children in a failing local public school. The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program gave students a voucher which enabled them to attend the school of their choice. It’s important to note that, rather than spending new money, vouchers empower students as consumers. They allow students to take some of the dollars that would have been spent on their education at the local school they would have been forced to attend, and free them to choose their own school where those dollars will instead pay for their education.
The SOAR Act will give new life to the DC Opportunity Scholarship program by providing vouchers to low-income students in the nation’s capital.
Heritage Action supports passage of the SOAR Act and will include this as a key vote in our scorecard.
AAUW has long opposed voucher schemes like the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act (H.R. 471) while strongly supporting the separation of church and state. In D.C., many of the vouchers have gone to religious schools that aren’t required to ensure civil rights protections for students. As a result, AAUW opposed the reauthorization of the Washington, D.C., program, which uses federal money. AAUW believes that the correct strategy for improving our nation’s schools is to direct taxpayer dollars toward improving public schools rather than diverting scarce public funds to private institutions.
SOAR would reauthorize and expand the federally-funded private school voucher program in the District of Columbia, including provisions that exempt taxpayer-supported schools taxpayer-supported schools from federal civil rights laws. We strongly oppose any bill that strips students from these critical civil rights protections. The D.C. voucher program was created by the D.C. School Choice Incentive Act, which provided funding for a five-year pilot program offering private school vouchers to students in the District of Columbia. That legislation changed well-established law by permitting federal dollars to finance education programs without requiring any corresponding obligation that programs comply with federal anti-discrimination laws (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and the Age Discrimination Act).
All five of the federal studies that have analyzed the pilot DC Voucher program concluded that the program is ineffective in that it has not resulted in higher academic achievement for students who use the vouchers, and in some cases have led to an abuse of taxpayers’ money.
The D.C. Voucher program is not supported by the majority of the District’s residents, and is a classic example of Congress overriding the wishes of the District’s democratically elected officials. School vouchers do not offer a collective benefit. Vouchers take critical resources away from our neighborhood public schools, the very schools that are attended by the vast majority of African American students.
Furthermore, private and parochial schools are not required to observe federal nondiscrimination laws even if they receive federal funds through voucher programs. This means that they can discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, disability and language proficiency – and even merit, despite the fact that they are receiving taxpayer funds.
On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of members of People For the American Way, we urge you to oppose H.R. 471, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act, which is scheduled for a floor vote this Wednesday. This bill would reauthorize the DC private school voucher program, the “temporary five-year pilot” program that has existed since 2003.
Despite its proponents’ claims, the program has simply not provided any significant improvement in the educational attainment of the enrolled students. Even worse, it has undermined our nation’s core constitutional principles.
NEA opposes school vouchers because they divert essential resources from public schools to private and religious schools, while offering no real "choice" for the overwhelming majority of students.
Teachers, parents, and the general public have long opposed private school tuition vouchers — especially when funds for vouchers compete with funds for overall improvements in America's public schools. NEA and its affiliates have been leaders in the fight to improve public schools— and oppose alternatives that divert attention, energy, and resources from efforts to reduce class size, enhance teacher quality, and provide every student with books, computers, and safe and orderly schools.