Letter to the Senate: March 4, 2010
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Re: Oppose the Lieberman D.C. Voucher Reauthorization Amendment to H.R. 4213
The National School Boards Association (NSBA), representing 95,000 local school board members across the nation through our state school boards associations, urges you to oppose Senator Lieberman’s amendment to renew the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program for five years.
NSBA opposes the continuation of the pilot voucher program, which has repeatedly failed to show effectiveness in improving student achievement over the last five years based on federally mandated studies. This $14 million a year program currently provides vouchers worth up to $7,500 each for approximately 1,700 students. The program expired in 2008 but was funded for an additional year (2009-2010) in the FY 2009 omnibus bill. The current language allows participating students a year to smoothly transition out of the voucher program. The President’s proposed FY 2011 budget includes $9.4 million to fund vouchers for existing students. These provisions stipulate that no new students will be added to the program.
When Congress created the voucher program in 2003, the goal was to raise student achievement with a priority for students who attend “schools in need of improvement” (SINI) under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). However, all three of the congressionally mandated Department of Education studies have concluded that the voucher program has had no significant effect on the overall academic achievement of these students. In fact, a 2007 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that students from SINI were underrepresented in voucher schools.
In all three years (2007, 2008 and 2009), the studies found no significant impact on math achievement of students who were in voucher schools compared to their peers in public schools. In years one and two, no significant impact was found on reading achievement. In year three, the study showed the reading achievement of some students improved, but it is noteworthy that students coming from SINI and those who entered the voucher program in the lower third of the test-score distribution showed no improvement in reading – the very group the program intended to help. The two groups of students who showed the most improvement in reading were students for which federal government intervention is the least justifiable: students who did not come from SINI and students who were already high performing when they entered the program.
In addition, all three studies found that participating in the voucher program had no impact on student safety, satisfaction, motivation or engagement. Students attending voucher schools also have less access to key services such as English-as-a-second-language programs, special needs services, school nurses, counselors, cafeteria, after school programs and tutors.
Not only does the experimental program lack academic evidence to support its continuation, the 2007 GAO report documented numerous accountability shortcomings, including federal taxpayer dollars paying tuition at private schools that do not even charge tuition, schools that lacked a city occupancy permit, and schools employing teachers without bachelor’s degrees. It also noted that children with physical or learning disabilities are underrepresented compared to public schools.
Now is not the time to divert funding from public schools, which are increasingly held accountable for student achievement and preparing them to be college and career ready. On the other hand, private schools are not held to the same standards and accountability as public schools. More support for public schools is needed as educators and policymakers look to raise academic standards, teacher quality and graduation rates to ensure our students are competitive in the 21st century global economy. They also must respond to increasing demands for services for students with special needs and limited English proficiency who generally do not meet the admissions standards of private school. Whether it’s in D.C. or elsewhere, vouchers drain funds from public schools to pay for private school tuition for a few.
NSBA believes the objective evidence does not support the continuation of the only federally funded school voucher program. We urge you to oppose the Lieberman Amendment to renew D.C. vouchers.
Thank you for considering our views and please contact Katherine Shek, legislative analyst, at (703) 535-1627 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Michael A. Resnick
Associate Executive Director