Logosm.gif (1927 bytes)
navlinks.gif (4688 bytes)
Hruler04.gif (5511 bytes)

Back to DC public schools main page

Press releases by various organizations at
House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform hearing on
“School Choice in the District of Columbia: Opening Doors for Parents and Students,”

June 24, 2003




Dorothy Brizill
Bonnie Cain
Jim Dougherty
Gary Imhoff
Phil Mendelson
Mark David Richards
Sandra Seegars


DCWatch Archives
Council Period 12
Council Period 13
Council Period 14

Election 1998
Election 2000
Election 2002

Election 2004
Election 2006

Government and People
Anacostia Waterfront Corporation
Boards and Com
Campaign Finance
Chief Financial Officer
Chief Management Officer
City Council
Control Board
Corporation Counsel
DC Agenda
Elections and Ethics
Fire Department
FOI Officers
Inspector General
Housing and Community Dev.
Human Services
Mayor's Office
Mental Health
Motor Vehicles
Neighborhood Action
National Capital Revitalization Corp.
Planning and Econ. Dev.
Planning, Office of
Police Department
Property Management
Public Advocate
Public Libraries
Public Schools
Public Service Commission
Public Works
Regional Mobility Panel
Sports and Entertainment Com.
Taxi Commission
Telephone Directory
University of DC
Water and Sewer Administration
Youth Rehabilitation Services
Zoning Commission

Issues in DC Politics

Budget issues
DC Flag
DC General, PBC
Gun issues
Health issues
Housing initiatives
Mayor’s mansion
Public Benefit Corporation
Regional Mobility
Reservation 13
Tax Rev Comm
Term limits repeal
Voting rights, statehood
Williams’s Fundraising Scandals


Appleseed Center
Cardozo Shaw Neigh.Assoc.
Committee of 100
Fed of Citizens Assocs
League of Women Voters
Parents United
Shaw Coalition



What Is DCWatch?

themail archives

ACLU American Federation of Teachers
Coalition for Accountable Public Schools The National Coalition for Public Education
National School Boards Association People for the American Way


Legislative Communications Unit
1333 H St. NW, 10th Fl.
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 675-2312
Fax: (202) 546-0738
Email: grottman@dcaclu.org
Web: www.aclu.org


ACLU Urges Congress To Reject Voucher Scheme in District of Columbia; Says Plan Hurts Already Disadvantaged Kids

Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Contact: Gabe Rottman
(202) 675-2312

WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today told lawmakers that if they approve a voucher program for the District of Columbia they will be funneling money away from an already debt-ridden public school system, putting most of the District's almost 80,000 public school students at a further disadvantage.

"If Congress really wants to help our children, it should seek to adequately fund the public school system, not disadvantage the vast majority of kids for the benefit of a select and privileged few," said Terri Schroeder, an ACLU Legislative Analyst. "Vouchers are unproven and ultimately counter-productive in the fight to reform and improve our education system in America."

The D.C. voucher scheme was the subject of a hearing today in the full House Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA). The plan would allow certain District students to obtain tax vouchers to pay for private or parochial school education. Current estimates show that only between 2,000 and 4,000 students -- out of the almost 80,000 in the nation's capital -- could benefit from the program, which would sap significant amounts of money from the public school system.

Additionally, those 4,000 students would be attending schools exempt from accountability standards in the "No Child Left Behind" education legislation, passed in 2002. While the nation's public schools are required to hire highly qualified teachers, open statistics on students' academic achievement to the public, guarantee academic progress and account for every tax dollar they spend, private and religious schools receiving federal funds through a voucher program will not be held to any such standards.

The voucher program would also encourage the violation of students' civil rights. The private and religious schools that would receive tax money through vouchers would not have to comply with federal, state or local civil rights laws - meaning that they could discriminate against students based on, among other things, religion and disability.

In practice, vouchers have never been shown to be effective in either increasing students' academic achievement or even in giving parents a "choice" in what school their child attends, the most popular argument in favor of vouchers. Studies in both New York City and Cleveland, cities that have instituted voucher programs, have shown no difference in achievement between voucher or public school systems. As for the promise of school choice, it is an illusion, the ACLU said, as the decision whether to admit a particular student remains with the private school itself.

"Congress has a responsibility to protect the best interests of this nation's youth," Schroeder said. "Our nation's capital deserves better than the rampant discrimination and civil rights abuses in its school system that would follow from a voucher scheme."

The ACLU's materials on vouchers can be found at:

Back to top of page


WASHINGTON, DC 20001-2079
FAX: 202-879-4556
Web site: www.aft.org

June 24, 2003


Statement from Sandra Feldman,
President of the American Federation of Teachers,
On the House Government Reform Committee Hearing
On School Voucher Proposal for the District of Columbia

Each new bid to bring vouchers to the District reveals political motivations that supersede students' real needs. Lawmakers have no trouble finding $15 million for private school vouchers, despite vouchers' lackluster record of achievement. But support is shamefully scarce for D.C. schools' everyday needs, and for programs that are proven to raise achievement. Spend a day in any Washington, D.C. public school and you will see many ways they could use the millions of dollars now targeted for private and religious schools, from repairing crumbling classroom ceilings to offering additional Advanced Placement courses.

Voucher supporters cling to the sole study said to show modest achievement gains for some minority students receiving vouchers. That study has now been discredited, but that has not quieted the drumbeat of those pushing vouchers for District schools. But results matter, whether for students or education experiments. And it is wrong to make Washington, D.C. the laboratory for an experiment that has already been shown not to work.

District residents undoubtedly would love for their schools to showcase successful educational strategies. We agree. The nation's capital is an ideal place to demonstrate the positive effects of research-based curricula, early learning programs, and extra support for struggling students. We welcome the opportunity to work with lawmakers to make sure all District schoolchildren receive an education befitting this world-class city.

The AFT represents more than 1.2 million preK through 12th-grade teachers, paraprofessionals and other school related personnel, higher education faculty, nurses, healthcare workers, and federal, state and local government employees.

Back to top of page

Coalition for Accountable Public School:

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, June 24, 2003 
Contact: 202/518-3667

DC Community Members Express Outrage at Newest Voucher Legislation

DC community members are appalled at the newest legislation which seeks to prop up private schools at the expense of local public education. The latest legislation offered by Rep. Thomas M. Davis (RVa) proposes to steer $15 million in public funds to local private schools in the form of vouchers. Mayor Williams, Councilmember Chavous and School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz ignored their constituents' resounding "NO" to vouchers, thinking they had negotiated other concessions to support public education options as part of the deal. It now appears that they sold out their constituents for no good reason. Davis' bill has no provisions to support the transformation schools or public charter schools that DC families have clearly indicated as their choices. And the bill will require no public accountability from the private schools, even as studies show no evidence of academic improvement by children who attend those schools.

"It's an outrage - a slap in the face to DC citizens, as well as the Mayor and City Council", said Nona Richardson, a charter school parent. "It seems the authors of this legislation never intended to support public education in this city", said Iris Toyer, Co-chair of Parents United for DC Public Schools. "It's clear their only agenda was to use public funds to support private schools that have no accountability to the citizens."

"The Coalition for Accountable Public Schools (CAPS) is calling on all District residents who believe public funds should be spent on public education, to stand up to this insult", said coalition coordinator, Jamie Daly. CAPS members are currently circulating an online petition that will be sent to the Mayor, City Council and members of Congress, to make it clear what District residents want for their children. Community members may go to http://www.stopdcvouchers.com/petition.htm to sign the petition, or may call 202/518-3667 for more information.

CAPS members include parents of children in traditional, charter, and transformation D.C. public schools; representatives of Parents United, National School Boards Association, American Federation of Teachers, Washington Teachers Union, Ward 6 Democrats, D.C. Voice, National Education Association, People for the American Way, and American Association of University Women, among other concerned citizens and groups. CAPS has the support of D.C. elected officials including Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Councilman Adrian Fenty, and Schools Board Members William Lockridge, Tommy Wells, and Dwight Singleton.

Coalition for Accountable Public Schools

      Who Opposes Private School Vouchers in the District of Columbia?

This list, compiled by the Coalition for Accountable Public Schools, consists of individuals, as well as education, civic, civil rights and liberties, labor, religious and other advocacy organizations devoted to the support of accountable public schools. This list consists of those who oppose diverting public money to private and religious schools through vouchers.

Local Individuals and Groups
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D - D.C.)
Councilmember Adrian Fenty (D - Ward 4)
School Board Member Dwight Singleton (D- District 2, Wards 3 & 4)
School Board Member William Lockridge (D-District 4, Ward 7 & 8)
School Board Member Tom Wells (D-District 3, Wards 5 & 6)
Reverend Graylan Ellis Hagler, Plymouth Congregational Church
Reverend Willie Wilson, Pastor, Union Temple Baptist Church
Reverend Dr. Kwame Osei Reed, Potomac Association United Church of Christ
Rabbi Daniel G. Zemel, Temple Micah
Rabbi Marc Israel, Union of American Hebrew Congregations
American Jewish Congress - National Capital Region
District of Columbia Congress of Parents and Teachers Association (DCPTA)
D.C. Statehood Green Party
Parents United for DC Public Schools
Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators (SHAPPE)
Stand Up! for Democracy
21st Century School Fund
Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
Washington Teachers Union
Raymond S. Blanks, Emmaus Group
John Capozzi, former U. S. (Shadow) Representative (D-DC)
Anise Jenkins, StandUp! For Democracy
Erika Landberg, Senior Associate, DC VOICE
Mary Levy, Director of the Public Education Reform Project, Washington Lawyers' Committee
Terry Lynch, Downtown Cluster of Congregations
Linda Moody (formerly of the D.C. School Board)
Hillary Shelton, D.C. NAACP
Iris Toyer, Co-chair, Parents United for D.C. Public Schools
Malcolm L Wiseman Jr., Stand Up! for Democracy
Ward 6 Democrats
Ward 7 Educational Council
Ward 8 Democrats

Select National Advocates
Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD)
Representative Richard Gephardt (D-MO)
Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA)
Representative George Miller (D-CA)
Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
American Association of School Administrators
American Association of University Women
Anti-Defamation League
American Federation of Teachers
Americans for Democratic Action
American Jewish Committee
American Jewish Congress
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Economic Policy Institute
Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America
National Alliance of Black School Educators
National Association of Elementary School Principals
National Coalition for Public Education
National Council of Jewish Women
National Education Association
National PTA
National School Boards Association
National Urban League
People For the American Way
Public Education Network
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
Women of Reform Judaism

For more information, or to join the fight against private school vouchers in D.C., call 202-554-8519, or email at info@stopdcvouchers.com 

Vouchers Are Not the Solution for DC

The promise of equal opportunity begins with education. Only when every child has access to a high quality education can we all enjoy equal opportunities to work, achieve, and participate fully in our society. Nowhere should this promise of opportunity be truer than in our nation's capital. The way to ensure that every child has an equal and valuable education is to invest in our public school system. Vouchers do the opposite. Rather than improve public schools, vouchers would abandon them, by diverting needed resources and attention, and would ultimately condemn them to failure, leaving thousands of children behind.

Vouchers are not wanted in the District.

The citizens of the District and their elected representatives have clearly expressed their opposition to publicly funded voucher programs. A survey conducted in November 2002 found that three-quarters of District voters oppose private school vouchers.1 Earlier this year, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, along with other congressional leaders, wrote to President Bush opposing any effort to impose vouchers on the District of Columbia. Council member Adrian Fenty recently wrote to the Washington Post that "vouchers would divert limited funds from public education while failing to help most students." And the District of Columbia Board of Education overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing vouchers last summer.2 Members of the clergy in the District have also denounced vouchers. The Rev. Trent of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church said, "We want nothing to do with vouchers." The Rev. Knutsen of Foundry United Methodist Church advised that, "Public money should be spent on our public schools, " not on private school vouchers. The Rev. Hagler of Plymouth Congregational Church of Christ warned that, "Vouchers could create a new form of 'separate but equal' by steering D.C.'s AfricanAmerican students toward private schools that aren't held to the testing and other standards in the No Child Left Behind Act." It would contradict the principle of local control of education to impose on citizens who do not have a vote in Congress a program towards which they have expressed such strong opposition.

Vouchers are not needed in the District.

There is no solid evidence that vouchers improve student achievement. The academic achievement of African American students who used a privately funded voucher to attend private schools in the District of Columbia was not consistently higher over three years than that of students who remained in public schools.3

Meanwhile, proven programs have been implemented in District public schools, are working, and should be expanded. The Accelerated Schools program, for example, improves student leaming through enriched curriculum and instruction and school organizational changes. Another program, the Center for Community Change has raised the graduation rate for high school students living in public housing from 40 percent to 80 percent by providing after-school tutoring and workshops on college and career preparation, and requiring community service 4 Schools that fail to improve are closed, and reopened under new leadership.

Vouchers would not expand parents' options.

A voucher would not necessarily expand the options currently available to parents. Public school choice is available to every child in the District, and the District also offers more charter schools per capita than any other school district in the nation. Nearly 70,000 students are currently enrolled in District public schools. No universal voucher program has ever been proposed, so any voucher would by definition leave most of these children behind. Assuming, however, a parent was granted a voucher, they would then have to find a school willing to participate in a voucher program, and with capacity to accept voucher students. Only 32 private schools located within the District charge tuition of $5000 or less, and space in those schools is limited to just over 4,000 students.5 Space at affordable private schools in Maryland and Virginia is similarly limited, while these schools offer the additional burdens of the time and cost associated with transportation. Further, a voucher is no guarantee that the student presenting it will be admitted to the schools of his or her "choice." That decision lies with admissions officers, who may deny admission to any applicant. Finally, vouchers do not necessarily cover the total cost of a private school education. Indeed, many parents of students awarded a privately funded voucher returned their children to public school because the additional costs proved unduly burdensome, and because many private schools lacked services taken for granted in public school, such as health services, special education and related services, and services for bilingual students and parents.6 

Vouchers could authorize federally funded discrimination. 

Private schools participating in a voucher program could be permitted to discriminate in admissions and in employment on the basis of religion. Previous initiatives have also failed to prohibit participating private schools from discriminating against students based on disabilities. If accepted at all, these children could be denied needed services or accommodations. Previous voucher initiatives also proposed to allow the use of voucher funds for sectarian educational purposes, thus requiring taxpayers to support instruction in religions other than their own.

Vouchers lack accountability. 

Accountability is the cornerstone of education reforms authorized under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, PL 107-110). To send public funds to schools over which the public may exercise no oversight is inconsistent, and violates the principles of NCLB. Voucher initiatives may purport to hold participating schools accountable, but none proposed thus far require participating schools to adopt academic standards such as those required of public schools under NCLB, engage only highly qualified teachers as that term is defined in NCLB, or administer assessments identical to those required of students attending public schools in the District of Columbia. Indeed, an overwhelming majority of private schools advised the U.S. Department of Education that they would decline to participate in a voucher program that held them to the same accountability standards that apply to public schools.7

A voucher program in the District of Columbia would do nothing to improve public education or the opportunities available to most of the children who attend them, and could potentially do great harm both to education and to civil rights. These efforts must be stopped. Education reform must focus on improving the public schools where the vast majority of students will continue to be educated.

This fact sheet was produced by the Coalition for Accountable Public Schools which is comprised of individuals as well as education, civic, civil rights and liberties, labor, religious and other advocacy organizations devoted to the support of public schools. CAPS opposes diverting public money to private and religious schools through vouchers. For information, or to join, call 202-554-8519 or e-mail info@stopdcvouchers.com

CAPS - 202-554-8519 - info@stopdcvouchers.com 

D.C. Voucher Promises: More Myth than Reality

Myth: Vouchers let parents choose their child's school 

Reality: Private schools, not parents, decide whether to admit a student. They can decide how many students they will take, and can discriminate based on a child's academic or disciplinary record. ("Obstacle Course, " Education Week, June 9, 1999; "Questions About the School Voucher System, " USA Today, June 28, 2002.)

Myth: Vouchers help children escape failing schools 

Reality: Most of the students in Cleveland's voucher program never even attended public schools many already went to private schools before having their tuition subsidized by taxpayers. The wealthy individuals and foundations that bankroll the voucher movement want vouchers for students regardless of income -promising help to low-income children is a smokescreen. ("Cleveland school Vouchers: Where the Students Come From, " Policy Matters Ohio, 2001).

Myth: African Americans strongly support vouchers 

Reality: African-Americans have overwhelmingly voted against voucher proposals and polls show they strongly prefer other education reforms - like smaller class sizes. In California, 68% of African-Americans rejected a voucher proposal in 2000. The same day, 78% of African-Americans in Michigan rejected a voucher plan. (Exit Polls, CNN. con, Nov. 7, 2000; "The Voucher Vote, " Palm Beach Post, Nov. 13, 2000.)

Myth: Vouchers improve students' academic achievement 

Reality: Credible evidence proves this is false, and in some cases, the opposite is true. The official studies on the Milwaukee and Cleveland voucher programs "found little or no difference in voucher and public school students' performance." The Cleveland study also found that students who went to private schools that opened in response to vouchers scored lower than public school students in all subjects. ("School Vouchers: Publicly Funded Programs in Cleveland and Milwaukee, " US. GAO, Aug. 2001; "Vouchers and Student Achievement: A Review of the Evidence, " National School Boards Association, 2000.)

Myth: Vouchers will help children with the greatest needs

Reality: Voucher programs disproportionately exclude children with disabilities. Such children were "actively counseled out of the (Cleveland) program," an Ohio education official admitted. ("Study Finds Skimpy Evidence on Vouchers, " USA Today, Dec. 6, 2001; "Whose Choice? " series, Akron Beacon-Journal, Dec. 13-15, 1999)

Myth: Vouchers will save taxpayers money 

Reality: Vouchers are likely to do just the opposite by requiring taxpayers to pay for two school systems - one public and one private. The voucher plan that California voters rejected in 2000 would have cost taxpayers $3.2 billion to pay for vouchers for students already attending private schools. (`Are Vouchers the Way to Improve California's Schools? " California Budget Project, Aug. 2000)

Myth: Voucher schools are accountable 

Reality: Voucher programs eliminate public accountability because voucher schools do not answer to the public; do not reveal how they spend tax dollars; do not have to hire highly qualified teachers (as public schools now must do); and do not have to make students' academic results public.

Myth: Vouchers will improve the public schools by creating competition 

Reality: This claim is based more on speculation than evidence as a recent study confirmed. Vouchers do take away millions of public dollars from public schools and give them to private schools that play by different rules than the public schools. For example, private schools select their students; public schools accept every child. ("Rhetoric Versus Reality, " RAND Education, 2001)

Coalition for Accountable Public Schools
202-554-8519 e-mail: info@stopdcvouchers.com 

Back to top of page

The National Coalition for Public Education
NCPE · 1090 Vermont Ave., NW, Suite 1200 · Washington, DC 20005-4905 · (202) 289-6790 · Fax: (202) 289-6791

June 24, 2003

Committee on Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative:

Today, your committee will conduct a hearing on private school vouchers in the District of Columbia. The undersigned members of the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE) wish to bring to your attention certain facts about private school vouchers, and urge you not to consider them as a viable option for students in the District of Columbia.

Vouchers undermine accountability. Accountability is the cornerstone of education reforms authorized under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, PL 107-110). To send public funds to schools over which the public may exercise no oversight is inconsistent, and which are not required to comply with the accountability standards of NCLB violates the principles of that law, and undermines the reforms it was enacted to implement.

Vouchers do not expand parents' educational "options." Private schools may not be required to participate in a voucher program, and participating schools may not be required to accept all applicants. There is thus no guarantee that any student awarded a voucher would be admitted to the private school of his or her "choice." Those most at risk of being left behind by a voucher program are ironically those most in need of educational support - students with learning, behavioral, or physical disabilities, English language learners, and children from unstable homes.

The National Coalition for Public Education is comprised of more than 50 education, civic, civil rights, and religious organizations devoted to the support of public schools. Founded in 1978, NCPE opposes the funneling of public money to private and religious schools through such mechanisms as tuition tax credits and vouchers.

Vouchers are neither needed nor wanted in the District of Columbia. Programs to improve student achievement in the District have been implemented, are working, and should be expanded. Meanwhile, the academic achievement of African American students who used privately funded vouchers to attend private schools in the District was no different than that of students who remained in public school.1 Furthermore, public school choice is available to every child in the District, and the District offers more charter schools per capita than any other school district in the nation. The citizens of the District and the elected leaders who represent them have also expressed their opposition to publicly funded voucher programs. Just this week, more than a hundred parents, joined by members of the city council and the school board, rallied to express their opposition to vouchers. A survey conducted less than six months ago by Zogby International revealed that 76 percent of District voters oppose private school vouchers. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the only member of Congress who speaks for the citizens of the District of Columbia, has repeatedly, vigorously, and eloquently voiced the District's opposition to any efforts to bring publicly funded private school vouchers to DC.

Vouchers threaten civil rights. Voucher initiatives that require participating private schools to comply with all "applicable" civil rights laws are virtually meaningless, since laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, and disability do not necessarily apply to private schools. Private schools, for example, are not bound by the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and may therefore reject students based on their disability, and may decline to provide needed services to students with disabilities that they do admit. Vouchers could therefore result in federally funded discrimination. Furthermore, where voucher funds may be used for sectarian educational purposes, as would be permitted under the District of Columbia Student Opportunity Scholarship Act of 2003 (H.R. 684), taxpayers would be forced to support instruction in religions contrary to their own.

Education reform must focus on improving the public schools where the vast majority of students will continue to be educated. We urge this Committee to dismiss initiatives to divert public funds to private schools through vouchers.


American Association of School Administrators 
American Association of University Women 
American Civil Liberties Union 
American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees 
American Federation of Teachers 
American Jewish Committee 
American Jewish Congress Americans for Democratic Action
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Anti-Defamation League
Baptist Joint Committee
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Council of the Great City Schools
General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church
Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
National Alliance of Black School Educators
National Association of Elementary School Principals
National Association of School Psychologists
National Association of State Boards of Education
National Associations of State Directors of Special Education
National Black Child Development Institute
National Council of Jewish Women
National Education Association
National PTA
National School Boards Association
National Urban League
People For the American Way
Presbyterian Church USA, Washington Ofce
School Social Work Association of America
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
Women of Reform Judaism

Back to top of page

National School Boards Association
1680 Duke Street · Alexandria, Virginia 22314-3493 - (703) 838-6722 · FAX: (703) 683-7590 · http://www.nsba.org 

June 23, 2003

Committee on Government Reform
United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), representing the nation's 95,000 school board members, I write in opposition to the creation of a federally funded voucher program in the District of Columbia. A voucher program in the District of Columbia would have significant national ramifications and would undermine the key principle of the No Child Left Behind Act: public accountability in education.

DC Vouchers Drain Millions from Public Education 
D.C. voucher proponents may suggest that such a program would be funded with "extra" taxpayer money - so as not to drain dollars from public schools. The recent activity in the House Appropriations Committee, to approve an amendment that shifted $10 million from the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill to the District of Columbia appropriations bill for the creation of DC voucher program, is evidence to the contrary. Any so-called "extra" money should be used to support America's public schools, which educate 90 percent of America's children and are working to fulfill numerous. federal mandates.

Across the nation, schools are facing severe funding difficulties for two basic reasons. First, Congress has failed to provide adequate funding for Title I, IDEA, and NCLB. Second, with state budget shortfalls projected to be more than $$0 billion for the upcoming year, states are not in a position to help local schools fund the unmet federal mandates. This leads local school districts to reduce educational programs and services, or to raise local taxes to offset the federally unfunded costs of the mandates. How will Congress account for supporting a federally funded earmark for private schools in the District of Columbia, when the public schools they represent financial grapple with federally under funded mandates and state budget shortfalls?

Vouchers are a U-turn on the Road to Public Accountability in Education The fundamental principles of NCLB are public accountability and demanding high standards of all public schools for all children. Even if schools are identified as in "need of improvement," NCLB ensures that all children will receive a quality education and that schools will be held accountable for students' academic achievement. NSBA is committed to these principles. The accountability reforms put in place by NCLB, such as the hiring of highly qualified teachers, annual testing, and public reporting on student performance and are not required of private schools. Private schools that would accept the federally paid voucher won't be held to the same accountability standards in NCLB as public schools in D.C and nationwide.

D.C. Board of Education Opposes Vouchers
The D.C. Board of Education opposes the congressional imposition of vouchers on the District of Columbia.1 In July 2002, the D.C. Board of Education approved a resolution opposing vouchers for a number of reasons including concerns over local control, the inappropriate use of funds for such purposes, and residents' previous rejection of voucher-type proposals. The D.C. Board of Education, in their resolution, also noted that "it would be hypocritical for Congress to impose vouchers on the District, as it rejected a proposal to impose vouchers on other jurisdictions and on the country as a whole during the recent debate on the President's education bill."

Vouchers are Vouchers
Proponents of a voucher program may argue,, it is "only for the District of Columbia" and therefore, even though one would otherwise oppose vouchers, it is acceptable to support a limited voucher program. Vouchers are vouchers, regardless of the name (e.g. "scholarships") or the location. Support for a limited voucher program, even the District of Columbia, could be understood as support for vouchers in your congressional district. As such, support for a District of Columbia voucher program will have an impact on your congressional district, and financial implications for your students and taxpayers.

The reasons that Congress has historically opposed vouchers apply to a D.C. proposal as well. This spring the House decisively rejected two voucher amendments on the Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA) reauthorization, and we urge you to continue to reject the creation of another voucher program.

We look forward to working with the Committee on this important national issue. Should you have any questions regarding this matter, please contact Joan Wodiska, director of federal legislation, at 703-838-6208 or by email at jwodiska@nsba.org

Michael A. Resnick
Associate Executive Director

Back to top of page

2000 M Street * Suite 400 * Washington, DC 20036
Telephone 202.467.4999 + Fax 202.293.2672 * E-mail pfaw@pfaw.org * Web site http://www.pfaw.org

June 24, 2003
Dear Representative,

On behalf of the 600,000 members and supporters of People For the American Way, we urge you to reject any effort to impose a voucher program upon the District of Columbia that will do little to address the needs of the thousands of students in the District of Columbia Public School System. Diverting precious resources from an already inadequately funded school system compounds the challenges DCPS faces and neglects the majority of students in the DC area by ignoring the real problems facing DC public schools. PFAW believes that public schools are a building block for democracy and that every child is entitled to a quality public education. Hence, if this Congress is able to find millions of new money, why not use it for proven and immediate reforms that serve all students, not just a select few?

DC voucher legislation is neither a good idea, nor a novel idea. It has been debated in some form or fashion for almost 20 years. The names often change, "District of Columbia Scholarship Opportunity Act, "Low-Income Demonstration Project," etc. However, the intent is always to use the students in the District of Columbia as test subjects for ill-conceived voucher programs that divert precious resources from our public schools and disregard the local control of DC residents. The most recent proposal introduced by U.S. Representative Tom Davis is no different. Thus, we urge you to oppose this newest DC voucher initiative.

As a civil rights organization dedicated to protecting the right of all Americans to be free from unconstitutional discrimination, we find it alarming that this bill would permit private schools in receipt of federal voucher funds to exclude students based on religion, gender, limited English proficiency and disability. Not only is this bad public policy, but it is a fundamental flaw in this latest DC voucher proposal and should not be encouraged by elected officials.

DC public school students need Congress to sincerely address their needs by providing them with quality teachers, smaller class sizes and better facilities. Encouraging DC students to attend private schools that are not required to abide by the basic accountability standards outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is disingenuous and disrespectful to the students and their parents. It is particularly inappropriate to permit the use of federal dollars for voucher programs that lack the very scientific, research-based evidence of effectiveness as required for public schools under the NCLB.

Public schools are required to educate all children, yet voucher programs only serve a small percentage of students while leaving the majority in underfunded and neglected schools. Moreover, since private schools are not required to accept any voucher recipients, it is not even clear that the vouchers will help low-income students.

Students of the District of Columbia deserve more than a voucher program that simply moves them from a failing school to an unaccountable private school. The District of Columbia should not be used as a testing ground for measures officials are unable to enact in their own districts. DC Students deserve initiatives that address all their needs by fully funding the public school system and immediately enacting proven and much needed reforms.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at (202) 467-4999.

Ralph G. Neas, President

Tanya M. Clay
Deputy Director of Public Policy

Back to top of page


For Immediate Release
June 24, 2003
Contact: Melody Webb
, www.stovdcvouchers.org
(202)554-8519, (202)276-9253, cell


The New Plan Will Destroy, Not Expand School Choice, Leaving 80,000 Children Behind and Underserved by the New Federal No Child Left Behind Law

Washington, D.C.---Stop D.C. Vouchers opposes the newest congressional plan, sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA-11), to create a publicly funded private school voucher program in D.C. D.C. offers choice through transformation programs, magnet schools and 42 charter schools in D.C. and these choices are already inadequately funded to meet the accountability mandates required by the Bush No Child Left Behind law.

"Where is the fiscal impact analysis? For every 30 students taken from the system, critical staff and local and federal funds will be lost. The voucher plan will draw sorely needed dollars away from the choices in our system now and curtail, not enhance choice in our public schools. Meeting the accountability mandates of the NCLB law by some estimates will cost approximately $9 million, which puts improvements in public schools in direct competition with this new voucher plan whose estimated cost is roughly the same as the NCLB mandate. If D.C. can not adequately fund the NCLB mandates such as improving teacher training, and raising student achievement, schools will not improve and students will lose. Just at the proposal stage alone we see that the goal is to force out public schools, not encourage them to improve. D.C. students will become the casualties of a crusade to impose vouchers at al I costs" said Melody Webb, leader of Stop D.C. Vouchers, a D.C. parent-led initiative started by the D.C.P.S. parent who is a D.C. attorney and DCPS graduate mobilizing supporters of public schools who oppose vouchers in D.C.

Stop D.C. Vouchers is part of an overall strategy of community education that is spreading its message across the country, largely via its information-packed website. The initiative has successfully targeted and helped draw attention to vouchers in D.C. via an earlier version of a House bill that was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz-6). Linking the voucher proposal to D.C.'s unique relationship with Congress, Stop D.C. Vouchers has enabled local and national citizens to send emails and sign a petition online to protest Congress' actions, which exploit the congressional oversight role over D.C. to impose vouchers on a city that has rejected them. The site can be found at www.stopdcvouchers.org

The introduction of this new Davis plan signals the death of an earlier bill, HR- 684, which was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz-6) and which was vigorously opposed by pro-public school advocates. Stop D.C. Vouchers helped kill the Flake bill. "We are happy that our efforts contributed to the demise of the 108th Congress' first voucher bill for D.C., which was offered up by Flake. The Flake plan is off, but like a hydra headed monster the voucher proponents in Congress have grown a scarier more powerful head for its voucher-for-D.C. efforts - in the form of Davis' new-and-improved plan." 

This legislation is a voucher-only proposal. Davis' plan includes no money for the system of traditional and charter schools in D.C. that need them. Numerous reports in recent weeks indicated that promises were made of funds for D.C. schools to the Democratic Mayor Williams, who bucked conventional. wisdom to seek a deal with Bush Administration officials wherein he would support the voucher plan as part of a three sector approach of support for public and charter schools. "Now our Mayor has egg on his face. The students of D.C. are twice wronged - first by having precious funds drained away from their public schools for vouchers, and second by suffering another failed promise of additional resources for those same public schools." Melody Webb stated.

"With Tom Davis at the helm of this legislation, it will take a massive outcry by residents of D.C. and by concerned citizens across the nation to put an end to this impending train wreck" says Melody Webb. Representative Davis holds the powerful position of chairman of the U.S. House Government Reform Committee, and has unilateral control over legislation concerning D.C. in Congress. (The D.C. subcommittee was abolished last year, ending the panel which historically had given D.C. residents recourse to sympathetic Democrats and moderate Republicans against intermeddling legislation traditionally offered by conservative Republicans.) "Mr. Davis' star is rising in Congress, and if he ushers in the long-held plan by the Republican Party to get vouchers in D.C. he can write his own ticket within the Republican Party. It is a shame that he is riding to glory within the party on the backs of the 80,000 D.C. children that his legislation will leave behind."

When asked about the fairness of 'imposing' the legislation on D.C. residents, Mr. Davis responds that the voucher plan is not mandatory. Because the plan was not sought through the legislative process by D.C. residents or leaders, and in fact was rejected by them, this voucher plan clearly imposes the will of Congress on that of D.C. citizens. In a 1981 referendum, a majority of D.C. voters opposed the implementation of vouchers. In 2002, a Zogby International poll confirmed this result. Residents of the District lack voting rights in Congress and the Senate and also are subject to fiscal and legislative oversight by Congress. D.C. voters have already clearly rejected vouchers but in another instance of bullying, Congress is imposing its will on the citizens of D.C. by pushing this plan.

In addition, on their face, vouchers are a bad idea. A GAO report has found that vouchers do not lead to significant academic gains for students who use them to attend private schools. In fact, a 2003 Cleveland study found that students remaining in public school performed better than voucher school students. Vouchers destroy public accountability for academic achievement, which is the cornerstone of the Bush Administration's NCLB education reform, under which schools must face penalties for not meeting approved standards for teacher training, performance reporting and student testing. Vouchers leave private schools unaccountable for protecting the civil rights of bilingual, disabled, gay and lesbian students (and staff). "We won't know how private schools spend tax dollars or even if they are doing what they claim to for our children. And what happens when a student develops disabilities? Private schools are free to expel them" stated Doreen Hodges, a Ward 8 parent of a disabled child working with Stop D.C. Vouchers. Private schools surveyed have indicated that they would not participate in a voucher plan that required them to meet such standards.

Rep. Davis suggests that his voucher plan is a panacea to the challenges faced by the whole school systems, saying that this is "about offering an alternative for students and parents". D.C. already offers extensive choice through charter, transformation and magnet schools, and public funds should be invested not in a highly experimental plan for 2000 children that has been proven a failure, but in these schools that already exist and-have high demand for the sake of the other 78,000 in the system of public schools.

In another development, Theodore McCarrick, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, has announced his desire for Davis' voucher-only bill to include dollars for public schools. "The Catholic Archdiocese may mean well, but he supports vouchers, which makes his statement hypocritical. To fund vouchers in and of itself is to take away precious resources from the already financially ailing public schools that are seeing after-school programs cut, can't buy adequate textbooks, maintain crumbling facilities, nor in many cases satisfy the most basic of infrastructure needs. The current voucher plan means funding needed to prop up Catholic schools, and throwing a few crumbs one time- this year - at the public schools will amount 'nothing when year-after-year public schools have to compete with the never-ending drain on public resources that vouchers will become once they are implemented. The Cardinal's position on vouchers is the height of injustice. In the District there are 6000 slots in the parochial schools. However 1400 of those slots are vacant. So vouchers help to maintain the viability of those Catholic schools. So vouchers really are a benefit to Catholic schools" stated Raymond Blanks, a Ward 6 parent-activist and educator working with Ms. Webb.

Back to top of page

1. National School Boards Association/Zogby International poll; Nov. 2002. 

2. Board Meeting, July 17, 2002.

3. William Howell et al,. "Test-Score Effects of School Vouchers in Dayton, Ohio; New York City, and Washington, D.C.: Evidence from Randomized Field Trials." Not enough students of other ethnic groups participated to make a reliable estimate of program effectiveness. 

4. Program Succeeds in Helping Poor Youths to Stay in School, Andrew DeMillo. Washington Post, June 28, 2001, page DC 13.

5. 21st Century School Fund, Vouchers in the District of Columbia: Analysis of private and parochial school capacity. 2003. Available at http://wvw.21csf.org

6. U.S. General Accounting Office, School Vouchers: Characteristics of Privately Funded Programs, GAO-02-752 (Washington, D.C. September 10, 2002).

7. U.S. Department of Education. Planning and Evaluation Service (PES). Barriers, Benefits, and Costs of Using Private Schools to Alleviate Overcrowding in Public Schools, (Washington, D.C. 1998).

1. U.S. General Accounting Office, School Vouchers Characteristics of Privately Funded Programs, GAO-02-752 (Washington, D.C.: September 10, 2002.

1. The District of Columbia Board of Education Resolution: Opposing the Congressional Imposition of Vouchers on the District of Columbia. Adopted July 17, 2002.

Back to top of page

Send mail with questions or comments to webmaster@dcwatch.com
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)