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Statement of Rabbi Marc Israel of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations at the Community Rally and Call to Action to Support D.C. Public Schools and Stop D.C. Vouchers

John A. Wilson Building
Washington, DC
May 6, 2003

Contact:Alexis Rice or Randi Levine
(202) 387-2800

On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and as a DC resident, a parent, and a rabbi, I am proud to stand here today in strong opposition to DC vouchers.

The Talmud tells a story of a teacher whose prayer for rain was answered promptly. Asked to tell of his special merit, he replied: "I teach children of the poor as well as of the rich; I accept no fee from any who cannot afford it; and I have a fishpond to delight the children and to encourage them to do their lessons." This parable reminds us that we, as a society, have no greater responsibility than the education of our children.

DC voucher advocates say that their plan will help the poorest children trapped in the most dramatically failing schools. But we stand here today to say it is disingenuous to suggest that vouchers - which will only cover a fraction of the costs of most non-parochial DC private schools - will enable parents struggling to make ends meet to send their children to these schools. So while the advocates claim vouchers are about school choice, they actually - at best - amount to a subsidy for religious education.

Some Members of Congress explain their support for DC vouchers by claiming it is a pilot program, just an experiment. But we have seen the results of voucher experiments before - and they are disastrous, with tax dollars going to schools housed in buildings dangerously below building codes and little or no evidence of any improved test scores or other measurable achievements.

How many experiments will it take before we declare vouchers a failure?

How many taxpayer dollars will we waste on relocating children from public to private schools before we realize that the way to achieve better schools is to pump more money into our public schools, and not allow vouchers to drain those resources?

How many children will we leave behind before we see vouchers for what they really are: an ill-conceived effort to undermine the wall separating church and state, funding parochial schools while doing nothing to improve public education?

As a parent of two young children and a rabbi, I know and value the benefits of religious education. In fact, my wife and I intend to send our children to a private Jewish day school here in the District to instill in our children the religious values that are a part of our faith and tradition. But we don't expect, or want, the government to subsidize this decision, especially at the cost of improving the public schools. Let the religious communities subsidize religious education, and let the government appropriately fund our public schools.

As the Midrash wisely observed nearly 2,000 years ago, "Lack of learning results in poverty." Let us turn our attention away from divisive schemes, which do nothing to improve education and which undermine our Constitution, and instead join together to focus on our real task - providing every child with a real opportunity to succeed, by strengthening the public education system here in our nation's capital.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .



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