Nevada Senator Pushes Failed Vouchers Scheme on D.C. Students; Churches and Religious Schools Stand to Benefit

For Immediate Release: March 10, 2009
Contact: Anne Singer, 202-271-4679

Washington, DC - Senator John Ensign (R-NV) is once again trying to turn the District of Columbia into a laboratory for a constitutionally questionable school vouchers program already proven not to work. Attaching his amendment to the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations bill today marks the Senator's second attempt to extend the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) for another year.

"I have to wonder what his goals really are," said Ron Millar, acting director of the Secular Coalition for America. "He claims to want children in the District to get a better education, but there’s no evidence – from Ensign or anyone – that this program provides one."

Current federal legislation funding the OSP requires a public hearing before further funds can be authorized, but Ensign's amendment would bypass any public scrutiny. Such a hearing would likely include a finding from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that the majority of schools that benefit from the taxpayer funded scheme are either Catholic or Protestant, and that parents have few secular school choices under this program.1 A hearing might also publicize the Department of Education's conclusion that there is no overall difference between the standardized test scores of private school students in the federally funded D.C. voucher program and their peers attending public schools in the nation's capital.2

Also of concern to the Secular Coalition is that religious education is clearly paid for with taxpayer dollars under the OSP; 88% of the scholarship students attend schools with tuitions below the $7,500 cap, so that every portion of the curriculum, religious education included, is covered by federal funds for the majority of participating students.3 The OSP also lacks an opt-out clause for students not wishing to participate in religious exercises. "The OSP creates a blatant breach of church-state separation," said Millar, "and Senator Ensign's goal seems to be institutionalizing that breach."

A vote on Senator Ensign's amendment (615) is expected Tuesday morning in the Senate. While the Secular Coalition for America takes no position on the use of vouchers for secular private education, it hopes to see this amendment, which would result in the direct funding of religious schools with taxpayer dollars, defeated.

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The Secular Coalition for America represents nine national coalition partners who share the view that a secular government offers the best guarantee for freedom of thought and belief for all Americans. It works to protect the civil rights of nontheistic Americans, and lobbies the U.S. Congress on issues of concern to its constituents. The Coalition’s website is www.secular.org.

Notes:
1GAO Nov. 2007 Report p. 31, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d089.pdf
2"Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After One Year," Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, June 2007. Second Year Report issued June 16, 2008.
3GAO Report p. 31
4GAO Report p. 60

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