DC Councilman Tommy Wells -- who not that long ago actually supported school vouchers -- has just written an open letter to Senate subcommittee Chairman Dick Durbin strongly opposing the reauthorization of the DC school voucher program this year. Why? Because some of the kids in the program use the vouchers to attend Catholic schools, and the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage.
That's right. Although he generally favors vouchers in general, Councilman Wells wants to punish the poorest of DC kids stuck in dead-end schools in order to get back at the Catholic Church for its opposition to the same-sex marriage bill pending before the DC Council.
The DC voucher program is available only to kids coming from families making less than 185% of the federal poverty level ($39,220 for a family of 4) and who would otherwise attend failing or poor-performing schools (as defined by the No Child Left Behind Act). The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has been a strong advocate for vouchers, and more than half of the 1700 kids currently receiving vouchers under the DC voucher program are attending Catholic schools.
Full text of the letter sent by Councilman Tommy Wells and DC Board of Education member Lisa Raymond is below.
November 30, 2009
The Honorable Richard Durbin
United States Senate
309 Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Durbin:
In our individual capacities as elected officials representing the District of Columbia -- as a member of the Council of the District of Columbia and a member of the D.C. State Board of Education serving as the current president -- we are writing to express our strong opposition to the reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP).
We believe the program has placed too many District students in underperforming private schools and supports discriminatory employment practices at religious-based schools, in violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act.
DCOSP provides vouchers for students to attend some schools that are seriously deficient. Specifically, these schools were not accredited or even in the process of becoming accredited, and employed teachers who had not graduated from college. According to a report by the General Accountability Office, these schools:
"Did not meet basic requirements to operate in the District. For example, a few had no certificate of occupancy on file with the District or had certificates that did not specify educational use."
We acknowledge that some of our publicly funded voucher students attend high-performing private schools. A small minority attend Sidwell Friends, St. Albans, and John Carroll High School. However, too many attend schools with fewer resources and lower standards than those of our public schools.
Furthermore, research has not shown significant improvement among voucher students or sufficient achievement gains over their peers that would justify the program. Rather, the latest research shows that academically disadvantaged voucher students--those from schools designated "in need of improvement" or with test scores among the lowest one-third of applicants--failed to demonstrate improved performance in private school over their public school peers.
In addition, as the Archdiocese of Washington, which operates Catholic schools in the District, made clear at recent hearings on legislation to enact marriage equality for same sex couples, they will not and currently do not recognize same sex couples or provide employee benefits for same sex spouses. It is their clearly espoused doctrine and practice to treat gay and lesbian employees differently from heterosexual employees. It is unclear if and how the doctrine is communicated to students. We oppose using public funds to support discriminatory practices in our city.
We hope you will join us in putting an end to this federal subsidy for discriminatory and low-performing schools. We would be pleased to further discuss our concerns, and those of the constituents we represent, with you or your staff, and we thank you for your leadership on this issue.
Councilmember, Ward 6
Council of the District of Columbia
President & Ward 6 Member
District of Columbia State Board of Education