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School Vouchers

Classroom

Opponents of school voucher programs recently learned of a new scheme that will hurt military-connected families around the country.

Noah Fitzgerel

On Thursday morning, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a "field" hearing on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), or the D.C. school vouchers program at Archbishop Carroll High School, where a large percentage of the students receive these vouchers.

The Reform Movement has a long history of opposing voucher programs, not only because we believe in the importance of supporting and maintaining a robust, high-quality and high-performing public school system, but also because a large portion of voucher dollars got to parochial schools, compromising church-state separation.The irony of having the hearing at this location was not lost on those of us in attendance who work on this issue from a church-state separation perspective.

Throughout February, we are commemorating Jewish Disability Awareness Month, a unique opportunity to highlight the ways that we as a community can be more inclusive and supportive of people with disabilities. It is important that we keep in mind all the many facets of how so many of the issues we work on at the RAC uniquely affect people with disabilities. For example, you might not know about the connection between the rights of students with disabilities and private school vouchers, but there are serious concerns regarding how the preponderance of "school choice" programs will affect these students.

This week is so-called School Choice Week (January 25-31), when pro-vouchers advocates try to take over the narrative and promote their views that the privatization of public funding into vouchers and tax credits promotes educational opportunities and expands choices for parents and students.

They could not be more wrong.

In this age of intersecting social justice imperatives -- when advocates are looking for important overlaps between traditionally defined policy areas -- it's important to remember one key issue that has serious repercussions for both our public school system and the separation of church and state: vouchers.

Vouchers (and some private school tax credits), known to some as "school choice" efforts, essentially take money away from public schools and funnel it towards private, often parochial schools. The public schools system epitomizes the American values of opportunity and equality, and the Jewish people have historically been major supporters of our public school system in keeping with the values laid out by Maimonides who wrote that "any city that does not have a school in it shall be cut off [all contact] until they find a teacher for the children" (Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:1).