Spending Bill Renews Federal Voucher Program Despite New Study Showing It Harms Student Achievement

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education released a study showing that students in the Washington, D.C., private school voucher program perform worse academically than students who are not in the program. Yet, just four days later, Congress released its budget deal, which includes language to renew the program through 2019. Congress is expected to pass the budget agreement later this week in order to avoid a government shutdown.  

The findings in the latest report are in line with recent studies of the Louisiana, Indiana and Ohio voucher programs – all of which also found that vouchers have negative impacts on academic achievement.

Rather than heed the clear evidence from these studies and move to end the D.C. voucher program, though, Congress instead has decided to renew it. And in an effort to avoid negative results in the future, Congress is actually barring the Department of Education from performing any future studies like this one. The new law will prohibit the Department from using the “gold standard” in scientific research to examine the D.C. voucher program – which it used when performing the recent D.C. voucher study – and will require it instead to use a “quasi-experimental research design.”​

This is an approach for the new “alternative facts” world: If the strongest research design tells you the program isn’t working, just ban the Department from using that research method and force it to use a different, weaker and possibly unreliable design that might give you the results you want.

Mark Dynarski, who co-authored the D.C. study released last week, told The Washington Post: “This program has been studied rigorously since it began in 2004 . . .  If rigor is rolled back, a future study might lead to more questions than answers.” As Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) said, it’s an “egregious dilution” of scientific research standards.

Studies continue to show the D.C. voucher program has significant problems, yet Congress keeps funding it.

Of course, the D.C. voucher program has significant problems beyond the fact that it has harmed students’ academic achievement. For example:

  • U.S. Government Accountability Office reports in both 2007 and 2013  identified repeated management and accountability failures and The Washington Post reported that the program lacked quality controls.
  • The vast majority of students in the voucher program attend religious schools, which means your taxpayer dollars are funding religious education.
  • Congress has imposed this voucher program on the people of the District of Columbia even though the majority of the District of Columbia Council opposed renewal of the program. So much for local control.

What it all really comes down to is that public funds should be invested in public schools for the benefit of all students – not diverted to private school voucher programs that prove ineffective and unaccountable.

We, along with the National Coalition for Public Education, which we co-chair, have led the fight against this program since its inauspicious start. Congress may renew the D.C. voucher program for three more years, but we know this is just the beginning of the fight against vouchers in the Trump/DeVos era. They want to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a nationwide voucher program.

It’s bad enough that they continue to foist this terrible policy on D.C.; we won’t let it happen to the rest of the country. We need your help: weigh in with your state and federal lawmakers and tell them you oppose any kind of voucher program.