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Letter to the Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee Opposing Funding for The DC Voucher Program

July 08, 2009

Dear Senator:


On behalf of the National Education Association’s (NEA) 3.2 million members, we urge you to reject any efforts to extend funding for the District of Columbia’s “Opportunity Scholarship” voucher program as part of the FY10 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. 

NEA opposes any extension of the DC voucher program beyond what is currently provided for under current law.  This voucher program, designed as a five-year pilot, has already been extended for one additional year specifically to allow participating students and schools to adjust to the program’s termination and make the necessary transitions.  The program 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 i.   There is no reason to continue to divert scarce resources to a pilot program that has been proven ineffective.

Vouchers are not real education reform.  Pulling 1,200 children out of a system that serves 65,000 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.  Rather than offering a chance for a few, we should be ensuring that every child has access to a great public school. 

For 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 $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 a $250,000 award from the NEA Foundation and a $480,000 appropriation from 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 Congress to reject efforts to appropriate any additional funding for the DC voucher program and, instead, focus resources on proven strategies to help ALL children excel.

Sincerely,

Diane Shust
Director of Government Relations

Randall Moody
Manager of Federal Advocacy


i The Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Three Years,  http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20094050