Senate Defeats Amendment Giving Federal Funds For D.C. School Vouchers

March 16, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – An amendment that would have continued an expiring program to provide federal funds for private and religious school vouchers in the District of Columbia was defeated tonight in the Senate. Federal funding for the D.C. voucher program, the nation’s first and only federally-funded private and religious school program of its kind, was set to expire at the end of the next school year. The amendment was proposed by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), but was defeated by a vote of 55-42. Last year, a similar amendment proposed by John Ensign (R-NV) also failed.

The American Civil Liberties Union has strong objections to the voucher program based on First Amendment principles, including the prohibition against government-funded religious discrimination.

“By voting against efforts to continue providing federal funds for private religious education, the Senate has upheld a core principle of our democracy – that our government should not be in the business of directly – or indirectly – funding the religious education of our children,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “While private religious schools have a clear and undisputed right to include religious content in their privately funded curriculum, American taxpayer funds should not be used for religious purposes. Once government dollars come into play, it will become impossible to avoid having those funds used for religious activity or favoring one religious program over another.”

The voucher program allows private and religious schools to take federal funds while infusing their curriculum with specific religious content without being subject to many federal civil rights statutes that protect students from discrimination. Schools that participate in the voucher program are exempt from complying with laws like the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Since the principal recipients of these federal voucher funds are private religious schools, Americans’ tax dollars are going toward schools that bring specific religious content into their curriculum.

“Receipt of federal funds must be contingent upon adherence to federal law and that is simply not the case with voucher programs,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize private and religious schools that are not bound to uphold many federal, state and local civil rights laws. Since private schools are exempt from many important civil rights laws, students who use these vouchers may not be guaranteed the same protections as their public school counterparts. Our nation’s students shouldn’t have to choose between their rights and an education.”

Congressionally-mandated evaluations by the federal government itself have shown that students receiving vouchers have shown no improvement in academic achievement when compared to similar students in public schools.

The ACLU’s letter opposing the voucher amendment can be found here:

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