President Barack Obama’s newly unveiled budget includes funding to allow students currently enrolled in Washington, D.C.’s school voucher plan to continue attending religious and other private schools at taxpayer expense.
The administration apparently considers the funding a compromise. Under Obama’s proposal, the 1,716 students now enrolled in the program will be assured of tuition subsidies through high school, but no new pupils will be subsidized.
Public school advocates were disappointed. D.C.’s voucher plan was pushed through Congress in 2004 by President George W. Bush; it passed the House of Representatives by a single vote. Originally limited to five years, the scheme is past due to expire, critics say.
Americans United and other public education allies are working to derail continued funding in Congress. The National Coalition for Public Education, an umbrella group that includes AU, issued a number of fact sheets debunking myths about the voucher program.
The coalition noted that vouchers have not significantly increased student performance for the targeted population and that the program does not guarantee true choice. The study also found that while parents thought the private schools were safer, the students themselves said those institutions are about the same as the public schools they had attended.
The program has also been scored for being a vehicle to subsidize sectarian education. One survey found that two-thirds of the participating students attend Roman Catholic schools.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has sent mixed signals about vouchers. Duncan has insisted that the Obama administration does not support vouchers but added that it does not make sense “to take kids out of a school where they’re happy and safe and satisfied and learning.”
U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) supports continued federal subsidies for the program and convened a hearing in May to promote it.