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Letter to the House Rules Committee on the SOAR Reauthorization Act H.R. 4901

April 27, 2016

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, we write to offer our views on amendments to the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Reathorization (SOAR) Act (H.R. 4901) being considered by the House Rules Committee today. The SOAR Act, which would reauthorize the Washington DC private school voucher program, diverts funds from public to private schools while budget cuts are hurting students by leaving key federal programs like Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) severely underfunded. All public schools need sufficient funding as they begin implementing the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

U.S. Department of Education reports on the DC private school voucher program found no significant impact on student achievement, student engagement, or perceptions of school safety. Moreover, students were less likely to have access to key services such as ELL programs, learning supports, special education supports and services, and counselors. In light of these realities, we call on Members of Congress who support public education to oppose continuation of the DC voucher program.

NEA urges the Committee to rule the following amendments in order for floor consideration:

  • Amendment by Rep. DeSaulnier (D-CA) which would require vouchers schools under the Act to abide by the IDEA protections for students with disabilities.
  • Amendment by Rep. Norcross (D-NJ) which would expand existing anti-discrimination protections to also prohibit private schools accepting federal funds authorized under the act from discriminating against LGBT students, students with disabilities, their families, and others.
  • Amendment by Rep. Pocan (D-WI) and Rep. Takano (D-CA) which requires schools accepting voucher students to comply with the same federal civil rights laws applicable to public schools.
  • Amendment by Rep. Scott (D-VA) which re-directs all authorized funds to traditional public schools and public charter schools in the District of Columbia.
  • Amendment by Rep. Scott (D-VA) which requires any private school receiving federal voucher funds to comply with all public school federal data and reporting requirements.
  • Amendment by Rep. Scott (D-VA) which ensures that any student using federal voucher funds to attend a private school receives the same federal civil rights protections as a student attending public school.
  • Amendment by Rep. Speier (D-CA) which would require parental notification that Title IX does not apply to students in voucher schools and requires schools to provide information on where students and parents can seek Title IX remedies.
  • Amendment by Rep. Takano (D-CA) and Rep. Pocan (D-WI) which requires schools participating in the voucher program to certify to the Secretary of Education that the school will provide each student who applies for or receives a voucher with all of the protections that are applicable to a public school student under IDEA.
  • Amendment by Rep. Takano (D-CA) and Rep. Pocan (D-WI) which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by schools participating in the voucher program.
  • Amendment by Rep. Watson Coleman (D-NJ) which requires voucher schools to comply with data collection requirements of the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

We thank you for considering our views on these amendments to H.R. 4901. Instead of taking taxpayer funds away from public schools and handing them over to private schools, we should focus on equipping all students for success and closing opportunity gaps for all students, no matter what zip code they live in.

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations