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Private School Vouchers for DC

Instead of bringing up bills to create jobs, Republicans continue to bring up bills to push their ideological agenda.  The last week in March marked week 13 of the GOP Congress, and the Republicans still brought no jobs bills to the House Floor.  Instead, they brought up H.R. 471, Private School Vouchers for DC, introduced by Speaker John Boehner, which increases the deficit, violates House GOP legislative rules, reauthorizes and expands an expired program that had failed to improve student achievement, and tramples on home rule for the District of Columbia.  The bill:

  • Attempts to reauthorize and expand the five-year pilot private school voucher program that was forced on the District of Columbia by a GOP-controlled Congress in FY 2004.  The program's authorization expired in FY 2008.  The program was the first, and remains the only, federally created or funded private school voucher program. In FY 2009, the Congress continued to fund the program on the condition that no funds could be used in school year 2009-2010 unless Congress reauthorized the program.  In FY 2010, the Obama Administration and the Democratic-led 111th Congress agreed to allow students enrolled in the program in school year 2009-2010 to continue until graduation, but not to admit new students.  This policy is continuing.  
  • Authorizes $300 Million, With No Offset; If Fully Appropriated, Would Increase Deficit by $300 Million.  The bill authorizes $20 million in each of fiscal years 2012 through 2016 for vouchers for District of Columbia students to attend religious and other private elementary and secondary schools in the District of Columbia - for a total authorization of $100 million. It also authorizes $20 million for D.C. public charter schools and $20 million for D.C. public schools each year for the next five years. This bill in total authorizes $300 million over the next five years, with no offset.  If Congress appropriates the full amount authorized, the bill would increase the deficit by $300 million.  In addition, the bill breaks the House GOP's “CutGo” campaign promise for discretionary authorizations.  To implement that promise, the House GOP Legislative Protocols for Floor consideration require that “[a]ny bill or joint resolution which authorizes the appropriation of funds for any new agency, office, program, activity, or benefit shall also include language offsetting the full value of such authorization through a reduction in the authorization of current ongoing spending.” The bill violates these protocols.
  • Reauthorizes An Expired Program That Didn't Work.  The expired D.C. voucher program was a failure.  The final congressionally mandated independent study of the program found “no conclusive evidence that the [program] affected student achievement”, as measured by standardized reading and math tests.  Furthermore, though the program was designed to benefit students from the lowest performing public schools, it had “no significant impacts on [the] achievement” of these students. 
  • GOP Spends $100 Money in New Money for Private Schools in the District of Columbia, While Slashing Public Education Funding by Billions of Dollars in All 50 States.  While they say we need new funding for religious and other private schools in the District of Columbia, House Republicans passed H.R. 1, which slashes education funding by $4.9 billion in FY 2011, including underfunding Pell Grants and slashing Head Start, Title I, Special Education, Education Technology State Grants, Mathematics and Science Partnerships, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority Serving Institutions, TRIO, Gear-Up, and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants.    
  • Tramples on Home Rule for District of Columbia.  This bill is part and parcel of Republican efforts to undo the home-rule advances Democrats achieved for the District of Columbia over the last four years.  Republicans, once again, are using the District of Columbia to impose their ideological and partisan agenda.  Speaker Boehner never consulted with the District's Member of Congress nor its local elected officials before introducing the bill. 

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton offered a substitute for the GOP bill.  The Norton substitute provides 50% of the funding authorized in H.R. 471 to D.C. public charter schools and 50% to D.C. public schools - with no funding for vouchers for attendance at D.C. private schools.

As the Obama Administration pointed out in its statement of opposition to the bill, 'the Federal Government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students.  Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement.'

Here are a few of key points regarding D.C. public charter schools and D.C. public schools:

  • D.C. Is Already A City of School Choice.  In the District of Columbia, 38 percent of students enrolled in public schools are enrolled in public charter schools and 27 percent are enrolled in non-neighborhood public schools through a choice program for parents.
  • D.C. Public Charter Schools Have Shown Success.  District of Columbia public charter schools, which have been created by local parents and organizations, provide publicly accountable educational alternatives for students and parents in the District.  38% of D.C. public school students currently attend public charter schools.  Unlike D.C. voucher students, D.C. public charter school students significantly outperform D.C. public school (DCPS) students, with charter middle and high school students scoring almost twice as high on standardized math and reading tests as DCPS students.
  • D.C. Public Schools Have Significantly Improved.  District of Columbia public schools (DCPS) have also significantly improved in recent years, and student performance is comparable to other large urban school districts.  According to the “Nation's Report Card,” the District of Columbia public school district was the only school district among the nation's 18 largest urban school districts to experience major growth at both the 4th and 8th grade levels in math and reading from 2007 to 2009.

On March 30th, the Norton substitute failed by a vote of 185-237 and the bill passed by a vote of 225-195.