WASHINGTON - House Speaker John Boehner’s plan to subsidize religious schools in the District of Columbia would undercut civil rights and civil liberties and add to the federal budget deficit, while failing to improve education, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Boehner has announced that today he will unveil a bill that would resurrect and expand the controversial experimental D.C. voucher program, which pays for tuition at private schools for some students in Washington, D.C.
Americans United says the Boehner move is seriously misguided.
“I can’t imagine a worse time to unveil a new federal subsidy for religious schools,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “This proposal would add to the federal budget deficit while subsidizing schools that indoctrinate and discriminate in hiring.
“Public funds should be directed toward improving public schools, not private schools that are unaccountable to the American people,” Lynn continued. “I hope members of Congress see just how wrong-headed the Boehner proposal is.”
Lynn noted that the D.C. voucher experiment proved to be a failure.
Four studies of the program by the U.S. Department of Education have concluded that it does not improve academic achievement. The final report confirmed that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading.
In addition, all four studies found that students from “schools in need of improvement,” which are the students targeted by the program, have shown no improvement in reading or math due to the voucher program
Lynn noted that most of the private schools that are likely to get funding under the Boehner plan are operated by the Catholic Church. However, Baptist, Adventist and Islamic schools are also expected to participate. Diversion of federal funds to these schools, he said, effectively forces taxpayers to subsidize religion.
“All Americans are free to donate to the churches and church schools of their choice,” said Lynn. “But no American should be forced to support a church or church school by the government.”
Lynn noted that religious schools play by different rules than public schools.
Religious schools funded by the D.C. voucher experiment were free to discriminate in admission on the basis of academic ability, disability, economic status and a wide variety of other factors. Moreover, voucher program participants attending religious schools are not afforded other important civil rights protections that public school students get.
At religious schools, teachers, administrators and other staff can be chosen on the basis of religious affiliation, marital status, sexual orientation and other factors totally unrelated to their professional merits.
Religious schools also often require students to participate in worship and make curriculum decisions that reflect denominational teachings. Biology, history and sex education courses, for example, reflect the sponsoring faith’s doctrines, even if they do not conform to broadly accepted scientific, scholarly and medical standards.
Concluded AU’s Lynn, “Religious schools serve the interests of their religious communities, and taxpayers should not be forced to foot the bill for them.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.