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Letter to the House Appropriations Committee on DC Voucher Funding

June 20, 2012

Dear Representative: 

On behalf of the more than three million members of the National Education Association (NEA), we would like to express our strong opposition to inclusion of funding for the District of Columbia private school voucher program in the FY 2013 Financial Services Appropriations bill.  This program funnels millions in federal spending to private schools at taxpayer expense.   

As Congress continues to propose drastic reductions in federal spending, including the potential slashing billions from core education programs, there is no reason to divert millions of dollars to vouchers.  It is simply wrong to consider funneling millions of taxpayer dollars to private schools while cutting programs that help millions of students in public schools.   

The District of Columbia voucher 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 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 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% 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% in the second year and was at 39% 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 6 schools 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 also undermine accountability for public resources. Voucher schools do not have to adopt academic standards, ensure highly qualified teachers, or administer the assessments required of public schools. This lack of accountability is not to taxpayers, nor is it consistent with bipartisan calls for greater "accountability" in our education system.  As demonstrated in the higher education arena, "competition" in the market does not ensure quality or equity of opportunity for all students. 

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.  Rather than offering an empty promise for a few, we should be ensuring that every child has access to a great public school.  And, instead of taking money out of public schools for private schools, Congress should be investing in strategies to improve student achievement. 

Our focus should be on strategies proven to increase student achievement, such as increasing parental involvement, strengthening teacher training, and reducing class size.  And, our goal should be to prepare all students for the jobs of the future, not to allow a few students and parents to choose a private school at taxpayer expense.   

When public schools are struggling, the last thing we need is to spend scarce taxpayer funds on private schools.  We urge you to stand up for the millions of students in public schools by rejecting funding for private school vouchers.  

Sincerely, 

Kim Anderson
Director, Center for Advocacy 

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations