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February 16, 2011

Dear Representative:

The undersigned members of the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) write to express our strong opposition to the provisions in H.R. 1 that would increase funding for the DC voucher program, open the program to new students, and lift restrictions and safeguards previously imposed on the program. In these times, when Congress is considering major cuts in the federal domestic budget, we believe that this is one program that has not demonstrated success and that continuing to fund new students entering the program is not the best use of limited federal funds.

All five of the federal studies that have analyzed the DC voucher program concluded that it is ineffective, leaving no justification for increasing its funding, expanding it, or weakening the accountability requirements. Instead, federal funding should be spent in more useful ways that would serve all students in Washington, DC.

The five-year pilot program was established to provide private school vouchers worth up to $7,500 to approximately 1,700 students, at an annual cost of $14 million. Although the program was scheduled to expire in 2008, the FY 2009 and FY 2010 appropriations bills and the 2011 continuing resolutions provided additional funding to allow for a smooth transition for students currently participating in the program. These appropriations bills stipulated that no new students could enter the program, but students currently using a voucher could maintain the voucher through high school graduation. The program, under the current continuing resolution, now receives approximately $13 million dollars a year to provide vouchers worth up to $7,500 to approximately 1,000 students.

HR 1 would increase funding of the program to $15.5 million. And, in addition to expanding the program by opening it to new students, the bill would eliminate accountability measures that were inserted in response to troubling reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Education. HR 1 would strike:

  • A requirement that participating schools have and maintain a valid certificate of occupancy;
  • A requirement that core subject matter teachers who teach voucher students hold a 4-year bachelor’s degree; and
  • A requirement that participating schools comply with the accreditation and other standards prescribed under the District of Columbia compulsory school attendance laws that apply to private schools.

Despite proponents’ claims that the voucher program would improve the academic achievement of DC students, especially students from “schools in need of improvement” (SINI), the congressionally mandated Department of Education studies have concluded that the voucher program has had no effect on the academic achievement of students who use vouchers.(1) Indeed, the final Department of Education report, issued in 2010, concluded that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading.(2) Furthermore, according to all four Department of Education reports, students in the program who came from SINI schools also have shown no significant improvement in math or reading.(3) Having failed to improve the academic achievement of the students in the program—including the targeted students from SINI schools—the voucher program clearly does not warrant an increase in funding or expansion.

The Department of Education studies further found that the voucher program had no effect on student satisfaction, motivation, or engagement, or student views on school safety.(4) And, they revealed that many of the students in the voucher program were less likely to have access to key services—such as ESL programs, learning support and special needs programs, and counselors—than students who were not part of the program.(5) Perhaps that is why students with physical or learning disabilities are underrepresented in the program compared to the public schools.(6) The program’s inability to improve the school experience of students in the voucher program further demonstrates that the program should not be expanded.

In addition to the lack of evidence supporting an improvement in academic achievement or school experience, a 2007 GAO Report also documented several accountability shortcomings in the program. Examples include federal taxpayer dollars funding tuition at private schools that do not even charge tuition, schools that lacked city occupancy permits, and schools employing teachers without bachelor’s degrees.(7) Also, some of the information provided to parents regarding the private schools, including information that “could have significantly affected parents’ choice of schools,” was “misleading,” “incorrect,” and “incomplete.”(8) This not only demonstrates that the program should not be expanded, but also that the current accountability measures should be maintained.

NCPE believes that instead of sending federal money to private schools, these funds should be invested in the public schools. We also note that despite receiving public money, the participating private schools are not subject to all federal civil rights laws and public accountability standards, including those in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, that all public schools must meet. Finally, we also believe this program continues to raise problems under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The objective evidence does not support expanding the federally funded DC school voucher program. Nor does it justify weakening the existing accountability measures. Therefore, NCPE opposes this provision in HR 1.

Thank you for your consideration of our views on this important issue.

Sincerely,

African American Ministers in Action
American Association of School Administrators
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
American Association of University Women, Washington DC Branch
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
American Federation of Teachers
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
American Humanist Association
American Jewish Committee
Americans for Democratic Action
Americans for Religious Liberty
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Anti-Defamation League
ASPIRA Association, Inc.
Association of Educational Service Agencies
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
Council for Exceptional Children
Center for Inquiry
Council of the Great City Schools
Disciples Justice Action Network
Equal Partners in Faith
Feminist Majority
Interfaith Alliance
International Reading Association
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
NA’AMAT USA
National Alliance of Black School Educators
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
National Association of Elementary School Principals
National Association of Federally Impacted Schools
National Association of Secondary School Principals
National Association of State Directors of Special Education
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Council of Jewish Women
National Education Association
National Organization for Women
National Parent Teacher Association
National Rural Education Advocacy Coalition
National Rural Education Association
National School Boards Association
People For the American Way
School Social Work Association of America
Secular Coalition for America
Southern Poverty Law Center
Union for Reform Judaism
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
Women of Reform Judaism

1 US Dep’t of Educ., Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Final Report xv, xix, 34 (June 2010) (Final US Dep’t of Educ. Report).
2 Id.
3 Final US Dep’t of Educ. Report at 34; US Dep’t of Educ., Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Three Years 34 (March 2009) (2009 US Dep’t of Educ. Report); US Dep’t of Educ., Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Two Years 34, 36-38 (June 2008) (2008 US Dep’t of Educ. Report); US Dep’t of Educ., Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After One Year xvii, 44, 46 (June 2007) (2007 US Dep’t of Educ. Report).
4 Final US Dep’t of Educ. Report at 43-47; 2009 US Dep’t of Educ. Report at xxvi, xviii, 35, 44-45, 49-50; 2008 US Dep’t of Educ. Report at 42-43, 50, 57; and 2007 US Dep’t of Educ. Report at xx, 53-55.
5 Final US Dep’t of Educ. Report at 20; 2009 US Dep’t of Educ. Report at xxii, 17; 2008 US Dep’t of Educ. Report at xviii, 16.
6 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program 30 (Nov. 2007).
7 Id. at 22-23, 33-35.
8 Id. at 36.