Education Reform Should Not Include Voucher Programs
UPDATE: As of April, the legislation referred to below remains in committee, but the provisions encouraging voucher programs were removed from the bill shortly after this letter was sent to legislators.
The Union for Reform Judaism and 52 other organizations, which together make up the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), sent a letter last week to Rep. John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, opposing Part B of the “Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act.” This draft legislation released by the committee seeks to reform America’s current K-12 education policy, colloquially known as No Child Left Behind and formerly referred to as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The press release announcing the draft legislation focuses on aspects involving student achievement, supporting rural schools and improving data reporting. While these aspects of the draft legislation are discussed at length in the release, one major section not included is of particular concern to the Reform Movement and the many organizations of NCPE.
Part B, also known as the Local Academic Flexible Grant, is unmistakably written in a manner that would incentivize and fund private school voucher programs. The bill summary states that “private or public entities could utilize these funds to support programs that will help increase student achievement, including scholarship and tutoring programs.” In this case, “scholarships” for “private entities” are taxpayer funds for private school vouchers.
Vouchers, which divert public, taxpayer money to private schools, including parochial schools, are bad public policy. Instead, we should be supporting public schools with public funds. The problems facing public education in this nation are serious, but vouchers are a distraction and a means of funneling public money into the hands of private, mostly religious, schools while ignoring the needs and wishes of the taxpayers.
The Reform Jewish Movement has long been a strong supporter of America’s public school system. Public schools are one of America's greatest achievements, and we have the moral obligation to provide the best possible education for all children - of all religions, all colors, and all abilities. The URJ, along with our NCPE partners, opposes any language that would seek to fund future voucher programs and urges that the current language be revised to invest taxpayer dollars in the public education system and ensure that no funds be used for voucher programs.