Pelavin: "Vouchers are a distraction and a self-interested means of funneling public money into the hands of private, mostly religious, schools while ignoring the needs and wishes of the District's students and parents."
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 10, 2011 -- In response to Congressional consideration of the Scholarship Opportunities and Results (SOAR) Act of 2011 (S. 206) by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and H.R. 471, offered by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Mark J. Pelavin, Associate Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to oppose reauthorization of the DC school vouchers program. The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Member of the 112th Congress,
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, I write to urge you to oppose school vouchers for the District of Columbia. Specifically, I urge you to reject the Scholarship for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act (S. 206) introduced by Senator Joseph Lieberman and H.R. 471, offered by Speaker John Boehner.
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. A 2010 evaluation of the D.C. voucher program conducted by the Department of Education found that there was no significant difference in the overall academic achievement of students in the voucher program as compared to students in D.C. public schools. A 2007 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found shortcomings in the program's accountability, including vouchers being used at schools employing teachers without bachelor's degrees.
The problems facing public education in this nation and in its capital are profound. But the D.C. school voucher program is not the solution. Vouchers are a distraction and a self-interested means of funneling public money into the hands of private, mostly religious, schools while ignoring the needs and wishes of the District's students and parents. According to the National Education Association, since 1966, vouchers or voucher-related measures have been placed before voters 22 times in 13 states and the District of Columbia. With the exception of South Dakota, voters have rejected public aid to private and religious schools every time.
D.C. vouchers threaten the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty. Our nation's separation of church and state has allowed religion to flourish for more than 200 years. In chipping away at the wall separating church and state, vouchers erode the most important protectors of our religious freedom. When vouchers are used toward expenses related to religious school education, they become an indirect government funding of sectarian institutions. With government money come government rules, regulations, interference, and control - exactly what America's religions do not need.
In keeping with these values, the American Jewish community, and the Reform Jewish Movement specifically, have been strong supporters of our public school system. Public schools are one of America's greatest achievements - a living wellspring of diversity, tolerance, and knowledge. We have the moral obligation to provide the best possible education for all children - of all religions, all colors, and all abilities. For the sake of our collective future, let us move beyond the false promise of school voucher schemes, with the knowledge that only by supporting and improving our public schools can we provide real opportunity for all of God's children. Once again, I urge you to oppose school vouchers for the District of Columbia.
Mark J. Pelavin
Associate Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism