President Obama Proposes End to D.C. Voucher Program
The only voucher program under the purview of the federal government is set to shrink should President Obama’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2013 become law. The District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program was created in 2004 and continued to function until 2009, at which point Congress voted to begin phasing out the program. However, President Obama agreed to revive the program in April 2011 as part of a deal with Congressional Republicans to avoid a government shutdown. Currently, 1,600 students living in Washington, D.C., receive $8,000 annually to help afford private elementary and middle school tuition and up to $12,000 a year for private high school.
The Department of Education reports that 82% of students participating in the D.C. voucher program attend religious schools, which means that public funds are overwhelmingly going to religious institutions that can operate outside government regulations. School vouchers are also troubling because they divert much-needed money from the public education system.
The D.C. voucher program plays a symbolic role in the school voucher fight because it remains the only voucher program controlled by the federal government. This means that taxpayer dollars are being used to send children to schools that engage in religious instruction and are exempt from federal regulations and oversight.
An evaluation of the D.C. voucher program conducted by the Department of Education in 2010 indicated no significant difference in the overall academic achievement of students in the voucher program as compared to students in D.C. public schools. A 2007 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office also found shortcomings in the program’s accountability, including vouchers being used at schools employing teachers without bachelor’s degrees.
The D.C. school voucher program is a failed experiment that should never have been attempted in the first place. The Union for Reform Judaism has long opposed the public subsidy of private schools, even in the case of Jewish day schools, and we commend President Obama for eliminating the D.C. voucher program in favor of increased public education funding in his budget proposal for 2013.