ACLU Letter to the House Urging Opposition to School Voucher Program for the District of Columbia

Document Date: May 8, 2003

Re: Oppose School Voucher Program for the District of Columbia

Dear Representative:

The ACLU urges you to oppose legislation that would funnel public money through private and religious schools through a voucher scheme. As Congress looks to improve the quality of education provided to students in the District of Columbia, its efforts should be aimed at helping all students, not a select few. By their nature, vouchers divert limited resources away from the public school system where the vast majority of students in the District of Columbia are educated. Further, voucher programs threaten students’ civil rights, are not proven to raise academic achievement and lack the kind of accountability at the heart of recent education reforms.

The ACLU has serious concerns about any school voucher program that allows government funding of private and religious schools without requiring that those schools abide by Federal, State and Local civil rights laws. Without holding private and religious schools to the same standards as we hold public schools to, a voucher program could expose students in the District to discrimination, particularly on the basis of disability or religion. Such discrimination would be an assault on the long-standing principle of equal treatment for all students.

The illusion of choice provided to parents and students by voucher programs often overshadows two important facts: (1) parents will have little newfound choice regarding where their children attend school as the decision whether or not to admit a child will remain firmly in the hands of participating private schools, and (2) merely switching from a public to a private school in no way guarantees parents a better education for their children. Studies on the Milwaukee and Cleveland programs found little or no difference in the performance of voucher versus public school students. Recent corrections and reanalysis of data on students participating in voucher programs in New York City show that the impact of the voucher program on student achievement was also insignificant.

In its recent attempts to reform the America’s public education system, Congress has highlighted school accountability as a top priority. The standards of accountability to which public schools are held in the No Child Left Behind Act do not apply to private schools participating in voucher programs. While the nation’s public schools are required to hire highly qualified teachers; make public statistics on their students’ academic achievement and ensure academic progress; and account for how they spend taxpayer money, private and religious schools receiving taxpayer money through a voucher program will not be held to any such standards.

Finally, there are approximately 78,000 students in the District of Columbia. Current estimates of the cost of a voucher program and the limited capacity of private schools in the District show that, at best, 2,000 to 4,000 students would be able to participate in the program. Congress should reject a voucher proposal in favor of legislation proven to help meet its responsibility to all students in the District.


Laura W. Murphy

Terri A. Schroeder
Legislative Representative