Controversial Voucher Bill Set for Vote in Congress
By Lance Fuller
(UPDATE: On Wednesday afternoon,the House of Representatives voted, 225-195, to reinstate the DC voucher program. The bill’s prospects in the U.S. Senate are unclear. The Obama administration opposes the program but has not threatened a veto.)
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on renewing and expanding the District of Columbia private school voucher program. The bill, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act (H.R. 471), would funnel valuable dollars to private schools at taxpayer expense – even as Congress is debating cutting billions from core education programs.
Originally piloted in 2003, the D.C. voucher program was set to expire in 2008, but Congress has increased funding each year, with $13.2 million in 2010-2011. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Scholarships for Opportunity Act will cost $300 million over the next five years to implement – new federal spending with no offsets, which will increase the deficit.
The National Education Association strongly opposes school vouchers because they divert critical resources and energy from public schools to private and religious schools.
“Pulling 1,200 students out of a system that serves 65,000 doesn’t solve problems – it ignores them,” said NEA Director of Government Relations Kim Anderson. “Instead of taking money out of public schools for private schools, Congress should be investing in strategies to improve student achievement. When public schools are struggling and teachers are being laid off, the last thing we need is to spend scarce taxpayer funds on private schools.”
Instead, the nation’s priority for education should be to prepare all students for the jobs of the future, not to allow a few students and parents to choose a private school at taxpayer expense, said Anderson.
Teachers, parents, and the general public have opposed private school tuition vouchers for years because studies have shown that they fail to provide students with a better education than public schools. Nationally, lawmakers in several states such as Florida and Virginia have tried to pass voucher systems, but have failed.
Annual academic evaluations from the Department of Education have shown that students who entered a voucher school from a school in need of improvement demonstrated no gain in academic achievement, and had no effect on student satisfaction, safety and motivation.
The study also found that D.C. voucher schools were less equipped than its public school counterparts in providing counselors, tutors, or special programs for students with disabilities and English language learners.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin has had vouchers for 21 years and a recent five-year study conducted by the University of Arkansas found that teachers at voucher schools may be less qualified, and that girl students were much less likely than boys to make gains in reading.
Despite all this, Speaker of the House John Boehner has made the privatization of public schools a top legislative priority for the 112th Congress. If the House passes the D.C. voucher act, action on the bill moves to the Senate, where Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is leading the charge for passage.