Senate Votes Down More Federal Funds for School Vouchers

March 10, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – An amendment that would continue an expiring program to provide federal funds for private and religious school vouchers in the District of Columbia was defeated today in the Senate. The amendment would have extended the federally-funded District of Columbia school voucher program, the nation’s first and only federally-funded private and religious school program of its kind. Federal funding for private and religious school vouchers are currently set to expire at the end of the next school year. The amendment, number 615, was proposed to H.R. 1105, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 by Senator John Ensign (R-NV), but was defeated by a vote of 58-39.

The American Civil Liberties Union has strong objections to the voucher program based on First Amendment principles that bar funding for religious education.

“The Senate’s rejection of continuing to provide federal funds for private religious education is welcome,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “The government cannot and should not be directly – or indirectly – funding the religious education of our children. Private religious schools have a clear and undisputed right to include religious content in their school curriculum when those schools are privately funded, but not when they are taxpayer funded. Vouchers are a problematic because once government dollars enter the equation it becomes impossible for the government to avoid funding religious activity or favoring one religious or non-religious program over another.”

The voucher program allows schools to take federal funds while infusing their curriculum with specific religious content without being subject to many civil rights statutes that protect students from discrimination. Students that participate are exempt from compliance of laws like the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Since the principal recipients of these federal voucher funds are private religious schools, every American’s tax dollars are going toward schools that bring specific religious content into their curriculum. Moreover, congressionally-mandated evaluations by the federal government itself have shown that students receiving vouchers have shown no improvement in academic achievement when compared to similar students in public schools.

“Federal funds should mean adherence to federal law and that is simply not the case with voucher programs,” continued Anders. “Students of these programs are not guaranteed the same protections of civil rights statutes as their public school counterparts. How can we say we’re helping our nations’ students when we’re not properly safeguarding them? There must be a better way for our taxpayer dollars to serve all students in Washington, D.C.”

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