Voucher Battle Returns to Capitol Hill

September 23, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The battle over a school voucher scheme that would funnel taxpayers’ money to religious and private schools returned to the nation’s capital today as a congressional panel considered creation of a federal vouchers program.

“Vouchers are like gambling with your child’s education. Some children will get vouchers and be admitted to private or religious schools. Many will not,” said Terri Schroeder, legislative representative for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Those left behind will attend poorer public schools with fewer resources, teachers, textbooks and activities. You might get lucky,” Schroeder added. “Then again, you might not. Fundamental fairness demands that we improve our public schools for every child instead of targeting a few for special privileges.”

Witnesses scheduled to appear today at the House Budget Committee’s high-profile hearing include Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida. In previous sessions of Congress, repeated attempts to enact voucher schemes have passed the House only to fail in the Senate.

The ACLU has long opposed vouchers, 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. Further questioning the claims of voucher supporters, the ACLU noted 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.

“Voucher programs offer only the illusion of ‘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.”

Most vouchers programs fund all religious and private schools – regardless of whether they discriminate against students due to learning or physical disabilities, religion or race, Schroeder added.

The ACLU has been in the forefront of the fight to support public education and defeat voucher schemes. The ACLU has lobbied in opposition to vouchers in Congress and numerous state legislatures, and has been actively involved in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of vouchers in Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Vermont, Maine and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

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