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Letter on DC Vouchers

March 09, 2011

Dear Representative:


On behalf of the National Education Association’s (NEA) 3.2 million members, we would like to express our strong opposition to H.R. 471, the Scholarships for Opportunity Results (SOAR) Act, which would expand the failed District of Columbia private school voucher program.  As Congress looks for ways to reduce federal spending, including a House-passed bill cutting billions from core education programs, there is no reason to divert $60 million in scarce resources to a pilot program that has been proven ineffective by numerous studies.  We urge you to VOTE NO on this bill when it comes before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform this week.  Votes in committee on this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 112th Congress. 

NEA opposes any expansion or reauthorization of the DC voucher program.  This program, designed as a five-year pilot, has yielded no evidence of positive academic 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.  (The Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Three Years, http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20094050). 

Department of Education reports have found that many of the children who left the DC voucher program did so because the schools did not provide the academic support they needed.  Of the students who left the program in the first year, 45 percent stated that it was because the “child did not get the academic support he/she needed at the private school.”  The number shot to 54 percent in the second year and was at 39 percent in the third year.  (2009 US Dep’t of Educ. Report at 35; 2008 US Dep’t of Educ. Report; and US Dep’t of Educ., Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After One Year (June 2007) (2007 US Dep’t of Educ. Report)). 

A 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also debunks the myth that voucher schools improve academic achievement.  That Report found “many of the [voucher] schools [examined by the GAO] were not accredited, and there is no evidence they submitted evidence of educational soundness.”  Another  troubling conclusion in the Report is that  at least 3 of 52 schools that participated [in 2004‐05] indicated that at least half of their  teachers did not have at least a bachelor’s degree, and 6schools indicated that about 10 to 20 percent of their teachers lacked at least a bachelor’s degree.”  (US Gov’t Accountability Office, District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program: Additional Policies and Procedures Would Improve Internal Controls and Program Operations, Pub. No. 08‐9 (Nov. 2007)). 

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 an empty promise 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.

This program is already showing 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.

Again, we urge your opposition to H.R. 471. 

Sincerely,

Kim Anderson       
Director of Government Relations

Mary Kusler
Manager of Federal Advocacy