WASHINGTON - With debate heating up this week in Congress over President George W. Bush's proposed education plan, the American Civil Liberties Union today applauded efforts to increase funding to America's public schools but cautioned that any attempt to include voucher or block grant schemes designed to funnel public funds to private or religious schools would invariably have counter-productive and divisive effects.
"The government's focus must be on the 90 percent of American children who rely on public education to provide them their opportunities for the future," said Terri Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Representative. "Voucher proponents are trying to pull a reverse Robin Hood. They would take money from those kids who need it most, those who attend public school, and give it to a privileged elite."
The ACLU said it strongly objects to multiple voucher and block grant amendments that are expected to reach the floors of the House and Senate this week. While these proposals differ in size, duration, and cost, the ACLU said they all run counter to this nation's belief in religious liberty as well as the need for equality and quality in public education.
Similar proposals, the ACLU noted, proved so divisive last year that they caused the collapse of efforts to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which provides about $44 billion in federal programs aimed at poorest of the nation's 53 million schoolchildren.
The ACLU has long opposed vouchers and other so-called 'school choice' measures, saying that they will create a two-tiered system of public education by limiting opportunities for some children, especially those living in the inner cities. Most vouchers programs fund all religious and private schools -- regardless of whether they discriminate against students because of learning or physical disabilities, religion or gender.
"Voucher and block grant programs offer only the illusion of 'parental choice' for the vast majority of public school students," Schroeder said. "At best, they increase the opportunities of a handful of children who will be carefully selected by private schools that have the luxury of deciding whom they want to admit."
The ACLU said that a study funded by a pro-voucher Republican administration in Ohio failed to find any improvement in the educational performance of students who received vouchers over those who did not. And voters in California and Michigan soundly rejected voucher schemes in last fall's elections.
"A motto of 'Leave No Child Behind' would suggest that we improve the education system for all of this country's students - not just for a privileged few," Schroeder said.