ACLU Welcomes Senate Decision to Exclude Controversial Vouchers Program from Appropriations Bill

November 18, 2003 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed the decision by the Senate to remove from the District of Columbia Appropriations bill controversial language that would have created the nation’s first federally funded school voucher program. A similar provision passed in the House version of the bill on the razor-thin margin of one vote in September. The bill will most likely be included in the omnibus spending measure to be considered by Congress.

“”Vouchers remain a highly contentious issue and the Senate acted in the best interests of DC’s students,”” said Terri Ann Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Analyst. “”Vouchers are unproven and largely unpopular. The narrow vote in the House and today’s Senate voice vote demonstrates the need to exclude the vouchers provisions from the final bill. If Congress really wants to help the children in the nation’s capital, it should seek to adequately fund the public school system and not disadvantage the vast majority of students for the benefit of a select and privileged few.””

The Senate appropriations bill has been held up in the Senate for months, largely due to the inclusion of the vouchers language. Senators from both sides of the aisle have expressed serious reservations of passing the nation’s first voucher program authorized by the federal government. Numerous studies have shown that voucher programs have little, if any affect, on improving student achievement. The ACLU and other organizations also noted that Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has expressed serious concerns with the program.

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. It is increasingly likely that the DC Appropriations bill will be included as part of an omnibus spending measure by Congress.

The ACLU said that if the vouchers language remains in the final omnibus bill, the select number of students who receive vouchers under the plan 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 would also encourage the violation of students’ civil rights. The private and religious schools that would receive tax money through vouchers would not have to comply with all federal, state or local civil rights laws – meaning that they could discriminate against students based on, among other things, gender, religion and disability status.

“”If Congress truly wants to protect the best interests of our youth, they should exclude the voucher program from the final bill,”” Schroeder said. “”The students of our nation’s capital deserve better than the rampant discrimination and civil rights abuses in schools that would follow from a voucher scheme. Studies show that vouchers do not increase students’ academic achievements, but we know that they will lead to an erosion of accountability and liberty.”

The Coalition Letter to the omnibus conferees urging opposition to the D.C. vouchers program can be found at:

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in Religious Liberty

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Religious Liberty

Religious Liberty issue image

The ACLU strives to safeguard the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty by ensuring that laws and governmental practices neither promote religion nor interfere with its free exercise.