ERIC Number: ED484341
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2005-Feb
Flaws and Failings: A Preliminary Look at the Problems Already Encountered in the Implementation of the District of Columbia's New Federally Mandated School Voucher Program. Special Report
People For the American Way
This special report discusses the new federally mandated school voucher program in the District of Columbia, which is the first federally-funded voucher program in the country. The voucher program is being run by the U.S. Department of Education ("DOE") in cooperation with the Mayor of the District of Columbia, and administered by a private organization called the Washington Scholarship Fund. Under this program, for five years beginning with the 2004-05 school year, federal taxpayers will subsidize the tuition of low-income students in the District of Columbia who can gain admittance to religious and other private schools, up to a maximum of $7,500 per year per student. For fiscal year 2004, more than thirteen million dollars have been appropriated for the voucher program. According to the voucher law, the primary purpose of the voucher program is to allow low-income students in D.C.'s public schools most in need of improvement (as defined by the federal law) to leave those schools and attend "higher-performing" schools. However, there is no requirement in the law that the private schools participating in the voucher program demonstrate that they are in fact "higher-performing" (e.g., by subjecting themselves to the same criteria applied to public schools under federal law). To the contrary, the Senate rejected an amendment offered by Senator Mary Landrieu that would have required private schools participating in the voucher program to be subject to some of the same requirements as public schools under the No Child Left Behind Act. Ironically, the voucher legislation uses the No Child Left Behind Act to define which public schools in D.C. are most in need of improvement and whose students are therefore given priority in the voucher program. Moreover, although the voucher program is supposed to provide educational "choice" to low-income students, the law does not prohibit private schools from imposing admissions tests or other admissions requirements on voucher students, or from charging them tuition in excess of the maximum voucher amount of $7,500 per year if in fact their tuition rates are higher. And while the vast majority of private schools participating in the D.C. voucher program are religious schools, there is also no provision in the law protecting voucher students who attend religious schools from being required to participate in religious worship or other religious activities that may be contrary to their own beliefs, or from prohibiting those schools, now funded with public monies, from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion. (Contains 49 footnotes.)
Descriptors: Scholarship Funds, Federal Programs, Program Implementation, Tuition, Public Schools, Private Schools, Educational Vouchers, School Choice, Low Income Groups, Federal Legislation
People for the American Way Foundation, 2000 M St., NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036. Tel: 202-467-4999.
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Authoring Institution: People for the American Way, Washington, DC.