Senate Introduces School Vouchers BillJuly 31, 2009
This week, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced legislation to extend and expand the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the nation’s only federally funded school voucher program. The program funnels taxpayer dollars to private, often religious, schools. It currently receives $14 million and provides vouchers up to $7,500 for approximately 1,700 students in the District of Columbia.
The program was created in 2003 as a five-year pilot program that would expire in 2008, but it will likely continue for another decade as the appropriations bills before Congress follow the president’s proposal to fund the program until its current participants graduate from high school. Sen. Lieberman’s bill, however, would significantly increase the dollar amount of the vouchers, increase the number of students receiving vouchers, and further extend the length of the program.
AAUW has long opposed school vouchers because they divert precious dollars away from public schools and do not have to follow civil rights laws, such as the No Child Left Behind Act and Title IX.
Title IX is the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. While known for creating opportunities for women and girls in athletics, Title IX affects all areas of education. It has made it possible for women to pursue careers as lawyers, doctors, mechanics, scientists, and professional athletes.
Because schools that participate in this voucher program are exempt from Title IX, they can discriminate based on gender. This means schools can base admissions decisions on gender, limit opportunities for girls to play athletics, and base curriculum on outdated gender stereotypes. By exempting schools under this program from Title IX, the voucher program creates an environment that is not only ripe for gender discrimination, but has no protections in place for victims should that discrimination occur.
In addition, in April 2009 the U.S. Department of Education released a new report that found no improvement in academic achievement for those students receiving vouchers from public schools in need of improvement — the target audience of the voucher program. A report from June 2008 found that “after 2 years, there was no statistically significant difference in test scores in general between students who were offered an OSP [Opportunity Scholarship Program] scholarship and students who were not offered a scholarship.”
In these especially tough economic times, we can’t afford to siphon scarce funds away from public schools to private or religious schools that are not accountable to the public or responsible for following civil rights laws. And remember, regardless of where you live, your federal taxes are going to support this D.C.-based program — whether you like it or not.