Vouching For Religion?: D.C. Program Subsidizes Indoctrination, Hiring Bias

Vouching For Religion?: D.C. Program Subsidizes Indoctrination, Hiring Bias
Via Americans United for Separation of Church and State - By Joseph L. Conn - June 29, 2009

Did you plan to make a contribution to Washington, D.C.’s Blessed Sacrament Elementary School? How about Muhammad University of Islam or First Rock Baptist Christian Church School?

Guess what? You already have.

Those three schools and 52 additional religious and other private schools in the District of Columbia were beneficiaries of the federally funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program during the current school year.

If you’re a federal taxpayer, some of your money has already gone to pay for tuition at parochial and other private schools in the nation’s capital.

The program, pushed through Congress by former President George W. Bush, was supposed to be a five-year “experiment” in school choice. The allotted time period for it has already expired, but proponents are lobbying hard for more tax dollars to keep it going.

Objective scholars say the D.C. voucher pilot has shown no significant academic results, and many observers think it diverts attention and resources from reforms within the public school system. Church-state separationists regard the subsidy as a clear violation of the principle that no taxpayer dollars should go to institutions that engage in religious instruction or hiring bias.

The National Coalition for Public Education, a broad array of religious, educational, civil rights and civil liberties groups, recently urged Congress to defund the program.

The letter, signed by 39 organizations, asked the House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government to “oppose the continuation of the already expired, failed D.C. private school voucher pilot program.”

Signers ranged from Americans United, the National PTA and the NAACP to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Union for Reform Judaism and African American Ministers in Action.

The battle over this issue in Congress is likely to be fierce. The various sectarian and ideological groups that make up the voucher lobby are well funded and politically savvy. They see the D.C. voucher scheme as a wedge to open up broader religious school funding measures.

The voucher lobby has powerful friends in Congress. U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is an aggressive supporter of the D.C. voucher plan, and some Republican leaders are pushing for it too.

The Obama administration has expressed opposition to any broadening of the D.C. plan but supports continued funding for students already enrolled in it.

Lieberman says he was promised a floor vote in the Senate on the voucher program this year. One may also come in the House.

If you haven’t yet contacted your members of Congress on the topic, now would be a good time to do so.

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