Education in the State of the Union
In the days after the November 2010 election, when many pundits predicted legislative gridlock for the next two years, some observers hypothesized that one policy area that might see bipartisan cooperation and progress is education. In the State of the Union speech, the President acknowledged this opportunity and called on lawmakers to seize the moment to improve our public education system as part of a larger effort to make America more competitive.
We commend the President for recognizing the shortcomings of the No Child Left Behind Act and the failures of our public school system and calling on Congress to fix America’s public education. URJ resolutions have recognized that public schools are the “great bastion of true democracy and “the ladder that American Jews, and so many others, used to climb from poverty to affluence in American life.” As such, we have committed ourselves to ensuring “that public education receives the resources it needs and that all students receive the most comprehensive and effective educational program to which they are entitled.” We applaud the President’s efforts to meet these goals and cautiously look forward to reviewing the forthcoming legislative proposals.
As our country’s leaders begin to evaluate our public education system, one thing remains clear: The Reform Movement unequivocally opposes efforts at the state or federal level to undermine public education and threaten the separation of church and state by directing taxpayer dollars to parochial schools through voucher programs. A US Government Accountability Office study demonstrated as well that voucher programs fail to significantly improve academic achievement for most voucher recipients.
Publicly funded vouchers also create the perception of government endorsement of religion. This week, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will introduce legislation reauthorizing the District of Columbia voucher program, and an unprecedented number of states are currently considering adopting voucher programs.
President Obama’s silence on this issue is deeply unsettling. If the President wants to “win the race to educate our kids,” as he declared in the State of the Union, he needs to clearly oppose vouchers and commit to supporting our public education system and the cherished values of church-state separation.