SCA's Letter to U.S. Senators Opposing D.C. Voucher Program -- Feb. 10, 2011
February 10, 2011
The Secular Coalition for America strongly urges you to oppose and not co-sponsor S. 206, the Scholarships for Opportunity Results Act of 2011 (SOAR), which would reauthorize and expand the Washington, D.C. private school voucher pilot program. Under this legislation, every U.S. taxpayer is forced to subsidize private religious schools that are able to violate civil rights laws by discriminating on the basis of faith and proselytize to students who are not given an opt-out option.i
With more than 80 percent of students in the D.C. voucher program attending private religious schools, reauthorizing and expanding the SOAR Act would only increase the number of students – and tax dollars – going to these private faith-based institutions. ii
One of the most dearly held principles of religious liberty is that the government should not compel any citizen to furnish funds in support of a religion with which he or she disagrees, or even a religion with which he or she does agree.iii
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was created in 2003 as a 5-year pilot program, scheduled to expire in 2008. The program, which currently receives approximately $13 million in U.S. taxpayer funds, provides individual vouchers of up to $7,500 to about 1,300 students. This program is the nation’s only federally funded voucher program. Although the program expired in 2008, it continues to receive funding. However, the FY2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act and FY2011 Continuing Resolutions included language to ensure that only students who receive vouchers in the previous year would continue to receive them. Additionally, as a result of deficiencies revealed in past reports and congressional hearings, the appropriations language now mandates that the instructors who teach core subjects at private schools with students receiving D.C. vouchers must have a 4-year bachelor’s degree, and the private schools themselves must maintain a valid certificate of occupancy and be in compliance with District of Columbia accreditation standards.
Federal laws protect students in public schools from many forms of discrimination, including religious. When parents accept a voucher to enroll their child in a private school, they surrender that student’s guaranteed protections. The purpose of America’s public school system is to provide a secular education. Once they’ve met basic educational standards, private religious schools may skew a curriculum toward their belief systems. Under the D.C. voucher program, there is no option for a student to receive an education from a private religious school without indoctrination. Consider these examples of private religious schools in Washington, D.C. that have received federally funded vouchers.
- Anacostia Christian Bible School (Grades K – 6): “Our purpose is to turn an audience into an army by reconciling them to God by making warriors for Christ and to each other through worship, prayer, preaching, fellowship, and teaching.” (www.anacostiabible.org)
- Cornerstone Schools of Washington, D.C., Inc. (Grades K – 6): “God’s truth is infused throughout the curriculum and is reinforced in chapel each week, where the students learn important lessons from the Scriptures. These lessons are put into practice in the classroom, on the playground, and in student service projects. Each morning, the school comes alive as students belt out Gospel songs during praise and worship time.” (www.cornerstone-schools.org)
- National Presbyterian School (Grades Pre-K – 6): “The School encourages faith in God and belief in a Judeo-Christian system of values, including respect for God, for others. … These teachings are interwoven throughout the curriculum and the daily life of the School, and more generally articulated in our core values.” (www.nps-dc.org)
Allowing government money to flow to these and other private religious institutions without holding them to non-discrimination laws is a clear violation of one of our core principles: “The Constitution does not permit the State to aid discrimination.”iv Not only may private religious schools have a religious curriculum, they may also discriminate by hiring teachers based on their faith, rather than on their professional qualifications.v
Since 1967, voters in 23 states have rejected voucher proposals and other tax-assistance programs for religious schools. Open and non-discriminatory in their acceptance of all students, American public schools are the unifying factor among the diverse range of ethnic and religious communities in our society. In our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. schools should be no different. Vouchers undermine this vital function by surrendering the longstanding principle of equal treatment for all, regardless of religion.
U.S. taxpayer money should not fund programs that harm the fundamental civil rights of students and teachers. The Secular Coalition for America urges you to oppose and not co-sponsor the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act of 2011 (S. 206).
i Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; U.S. Dept. of Education, Office for Civil Rights, http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/hq53e8.html
ii U.S. Dept. of Ed., Education of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Three Years (April 2009).
iii Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, 1789.
iv Norwood v. Harrison, 413 U.S. 455, 465-66 (1973).
v Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; U.S. Dept. of Education, Office for Civil Rights, http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/hq53e8.html