On Wednesday, a House committee will mark up legislation reauthorizing the nation’s only federally funded school voucher program, in which all U.S. taxpayers partly cover private school tuition for 1,100 low-income students in the nation’s capital. Created by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004, the program is exactly the kind of privatization scheme President Donald Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, has championed across the country, and Senator Tim Scott is pushing a bill to expand the program this year. But D.C.’s experience shows precisely why vouchers are the wrong prescription for America’s schools.
As a majority of the D.C. city council argued in a letter to Representative Jason Chaffetz on Tuesday, the program fails to increase student achievement. It does slightly increase graduation rates and college attendance, but the program violates the separation of church and state by funding private religious schools, which 80 percent of participating students attend. Those schools also aren’t subject to federal and local civil rights and non-discrimination protections. The program has also had quality control issues over the years.
In 2012, a Washington Post investigation “found that hundreds of students use their voucher dollars to attend schools that are unaccredited or are in unconventional settings, such as a family-run K-12 school operating out of a storefront, a Nation of Islam school based in a converted Deanwood residence, and a school built around the philosophy of a Bulgarian psychotherapist. At a time when public schools face increasing demands for accountability and transparency, the 52 D.C. private schools that receive millions of federal voucher dollars are subject to few quality controls and offer widely disparate experiences, the Post found.”
The Post reports that David Grosso, who chairs the city council’s education committee, “called the bill an affront to the city’s improving public school system and a potential vehicle for President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime advocate for school choice, to make good on a promise to expand private school vouchers, beginning in D.C.” That’s bad news for students seeking a better education.