As House Narrowly Approves Controversial DC Voucher Scheme, ACLU Calls For Serious Reconsideration Before Bill's Final Passage

September 5, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Acting with only a razor-thin margin, the House of Representatives today gave preliminary approval for a controversial voucher scheme for the District of Columbia and then postponed final consideration on the underlying DC appropriations bill until next week. In reaction, the American Civil Liberties Union strongly urged House members to reject the appropriations measure if the voucher provisions are not removed.

“If Congress really wants to help the children in the nation’s capital, it should seek to adequately fund the public school system and not disadvantage the vast majority of students for the benefit of a select and privileged few,” said Terri Ann Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Analyst. “Vouchers are unproven and largely unpopular. Today’s narrow vote in the Republican-controlled House shows just how controversial this issue is.”

The DC voucher amendment, sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), passed the house by a vote of 205-202, with 13 Republicans voting against it. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), offered an amendment to withhold funding for the program, but that failed in a rarely seen tie vote of 203-203. A vote on final passage of the DC appropriations bill was postponed until next week. Voucher opponents in Congress believe that the House may be forced to reconsider the Davis voucher amendment prior to final passage. Under the rules of the House, members may ask for a revote on an amendment prior to final passage of a bill.

The ACLU said that if the measure passes, even those select number of students who receive vouchers under the plan could still be disadvantaged because they would be attending schools exempt from federal accountability standards. While public schools are required to hire highly qualified teachers, guarantee academic progress and account for every tax dollar they spend, private and religious schools receiving federal funds through a voucher program would not be held to any such standards.

The voucher program would also encourage the violation of students’ civil rights. The private and religious schools that would receive tax money through vouchers would not have to comply with all federal, state or local civil rights laws – meaning that they could discriminate against students based on, among other things, gender, religion and disability status.

“If Congress truly wants to protect the best interests of our youth, they should not allow the voucher program to go forward,” Schroeder said. “The students of our nation’s capital deserve better than the rampant discrimination and civil rights abuses in schools that would follow from a voucher scheme. Studies show that vouchers do not increase students’ academic achievements, but we know that they will lead to an erosion of accountability and liberty.”

The National Coalition’s Letter to the House on the voucher scheme can be seen at:

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