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Letter to the Full Senate Opposing a Voucher Provision In The Department of Defense Authorization Bill

July 09, 2009

Dear Senator:


On behalf of the National Education Association’s (NEA) 3.2 million members, we would like to express our deep concern over language inserted into the Department of Defense Authorization bill that would require a study on options for educational opportunities, including private school vouchers, for dependent children of members of the armed forces. 

Vouchers are not real education reform.  Pulling children out of the public school system doesn’t solve problems — it ignores them.  Real reform will put a qualified teacher in every classroom, keep their skills up to date with continuing education, and raise pay to attract and retain the best teachers. 

The Failed Experiment
Proponents of a military family voucher program have cited the District of Columbia voucher program as a model.  However, the DC voucher pilot program, which is set to expire this year, has yielded no evidence of positive impact on the students the program was designed to assist — those attending schools that have been designated as needing improvement under the accountability systems of No Child Left Behind.  The program also has been proven to have no impact on achievement in mathematics, no impact on male students, no impact on students entering the program in the second year of its existence, and no impact on those students who scored in the lower third of baseline reading tests; i.e., those most in need of assistance.  

Vouchers are clearly not the right solution to ensure every student the highest quality education.  Voucher schools are permitted to maintain their admissions standards and can reject any public school student they choose.  They can reject students based on prior academic achievement and on the basis of gender.  Students with special needs often cannot find a private school that can serve them.  In contrast, public schools serve all students who come through their doors. 

Real Education Reform
Vouchers are not real education reform.  Providing vouchers for 750,000 students in military families stationed in the United States would be a huge expense.  Real reform will put a qualified teacher in every classroom, keep their skills up to date with continuing education, and raise pay to attract and retain the best teachers.  Rather than offering a chance for a few, we should be ensuring that every child has access to a great public school. 

The CommPact Example
We call your attention to the CommPACT Schools initiative -- a groundbreaking approach to improving high-need urban schools.  The program is based on the hypothesis that significant change can occur through a strong collaborative relationship among the teachers’ association, school district, and community partners.  Serving over 3,300 students at an annual cost of about $750,000, the program is far more cost efficient than any voucher program, and because it is based on strategies that have already been tested and found effective, we are confident that it will prove a superior solution for low-performing schools.  The project is funded, in part, by the NEA Foundation and the Connecticut General Assembly, and includes research, assessments, and professional development for teachers, as well as facilitated partnerships with community members, parents, administrators, children, and teachers.

Only nine months into the initiative, we are already seeing results.  Several schools have forged new and innovative relationships with their district offices and local unions, allowing them to implement strategies directly aligned with the learning needs of their students.  School communities have engaged in rigorous analyses of their strengths and limitations, ultimately identifying a small number of high-leverage areas of focus.  Each of the CommPACT schools has begun to implement improvement strategies, programs and practices that are supported by research.  In addition, the University of Connecticut has begun to infuse these schools with resources, from student interns to research supported literacy models.  And, the schools are beginning to experience unprecedented parent and community engagement.

The evidence is clear and overwhelming: if our intent is to help children succeed, the answer is not a one-size-fits-all magic elixir that has thus far proven only that it does not improve the academic achievement of students attending schools in need of improvement.  The answer is to identify and fund proven school improvement strategies.

We urge the Senate to reject any language in the Defense Authorization bill referencing private school vouchers as a positive option for military families. 

Sincerely,

Diane Shust
Director of Government Relations

Randall Moody
Manager of Federal Advocacy