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Letter to President Obama to Oppose any Extension of DC Vouchers

March 06, 2009

Dear President Obama:


On behalf of the National Education Association’s (NEA) 3.2 million members, we would like to thank you for your longstanding support of public education and your commitment to ensuring great public schools for every student.  We particularly thank you for the significant investments in education provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and in the outline of your proposed Budget for fiscal year 2010. 

We are now concerned about an ongoing threat to public education in the District of Columbia and hope that you will use your voice to help eliminate this threat.  Specifically, we urge you to call on Congress to end the District of Columbia pilot voucher program as scheduled this year and to oppose any efforts to extend this ineffective program. 

The data is clear that the DC pilot program has made no difference in student achievement:

  • A 2007 U.S. Government Accountability Office report found pervasive administrative and accountability problems in the program, undermining fiscal and operational integrity (District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program: Additional Policies and Procedures Would Improve Internal Controls and Program Operations, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d089.pdf.) 
  • GAO found, for example, that the program supports private schools that do not charge tuition and schools that use unqualified teachers – some do not have even bachelor’s degrees.
  • In 2008, a study by the Department of Education found that students in the D.C. voucher program generally did no better on reading and math tests after two years than their public school peers.  (School Choice Demonstration Project: Washington, DC Opportunity Scholarship Program Research, http://www.uaedreform.org/SCDP/DC_Research.html)

The pilot program was proposed by the previous Administration in 2004 as a five-year voucher experiment.  The program has never been authorized.  Although it was set to expire last year, Congress extended the program for one additional year, but stipulated that no funding beyond the 2009-2010 year would be provided absent an authorization of the program.  We agreed to the one-year extension with the understanding that, as the law states, “The Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools should promptly take steps to minimize potential disruption and ensure smooth transition for any students seeking enrollment in the public school system as a result of any changes made to the private scholarship program affecting periods after school year 2009-2010.”  We believe the extension has afforded families currently using the program and the DC public school system ample time to adjust to the program’s termination and make the necessary transitions. 

All DC children deserve to go to a great public school, but vouchers are not the way to achieve this goal.  We must, and can, strengthen the neighborhood public schools we already have.  Doing so will require reducing class size, putting a qualified teacher in every classroom, keeping their skills up-to-date with continuing education, and raising pay to attract and retain the best teachers.  We urge you to encourage Congress to allow the program to expire as scheduled and to concentrate on ensuring the real reform necessary to help all DC students succeed. 

Sincerely,

Dennis Van Roekel
President