ACLU Joins Civil Rights and Education Leaders to Express Disappointment With Inclusion of Controversial Vouchers Program in Appropriations Bill

January 22, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – With the Senate adoption today of an omnibus appropriations measure for 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union joined with a broad coalition of national and local civil rights and education groups to express disappointment with the inclusion of controversial language in the District of Columbia Appropriations bill that will create the nation’s first federally funded school voucher program.

“Voucher programs are unproven to be effective and largely unpopular,” said Terri Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Analyst. “Vouchers lack wide-spread support both in Congress and in the public, and it is shameful that the leadership has re-inserted the vouchers program in the omnibus bill. Today’s vote has failed to provide meaningful assistance to help schoolchildren in the nation’s capital.”

The Senate had previously voted to exclude the vouchers program from the DC Appropriations bill. Senators from both sides of the aisle have expressed serious reservations of passing the nation’s first voucher program authorized by the federal government.

In the House, the DC voucher amendment, sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), passed by a vote of 205-202, with 13 Republicans voting against it. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), offered an amendment to withhold funding for the program, but that failed in a rarely seen tie vote of 203-203.

The ACLU said that students who receive vouchers could still be disadvantaged because they would be attending schools exempt from federal accountability standards. While public schools are required to hire highly qualified teachers, guarantee academic progress and account for every tax dollar they spend, private and religious schools receiving federal funds through a voucher program would not be held to any such standards.

The voucher program will also encourage the violation of students’ civil rights. Private and religious schools that receive public money through vouchers do not have to comply with all federal, state or local civil rights laws – meaning that they could discriminate against students based on gender, English language proficiency, academic performance and disability status. The voucher provision would also allow for religious discrimination against employees.

At a press conference held today, the ACLU joined Senator Kennedy, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the NAACP, the National Coalition for Public Education and many other national and local groups to voice their disappointment with the inclusion of the voucher language in the final omnibus measure. Senator Kennedy is expected to introduce legislation that would repeal the voucher program.

“If Congress truly wanted to protect the best interests of our youth, they should have excluded the voucher program from the final bill,” Schroeder said. “In terms of ensuring academic achievement, protecting civil rights in schools, and preventing discrimination, the omnibus measure gets a failing grade.”

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