Civil Rights Coalition Denounces Passage of D.C. School Voucher Program, Promises Oversight

Media 01.22,04

WASHINGTON – The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, today sharply criticized the congressional passage of legislation to establish a private school voucher program in the District of Columbia. LCCR voiced strong concerns that the program would undermine federal civil rights protections and open the door to taxpayer-sanctioned discrimination.

“Our nation simply cannot afford discriminatory barriers in education, whether based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability,” stated Nancy Zirkin, deputy director of LCCR. “We believe that the voucher plan for D.C. sets a dangerous precedent that allows federal dollars to be sent to entities without requiring compliance with federal civil rights laws.”

“Supporters of the voucher plan for D.C. like to portray voucher programs as a step forward for civil rights. LCCR believes that just the opposite is true,” Zirkin continued. “The bottom line for us is that the D.C. voucher program is unacceptable because it permits federal funds to go to private schools that can discriminate against students, based upon factors such as disability, gender, or limited English proficiency. The proposal even lets public funds be used to discriminate in employment, on the basis of religion. The problem here is that the same rules don’t apply in private schools.”

LCCR also pointed out the unfairness of the legislative process that resulted in the D.C. voucher program. “D.C. residents – as has been the case for far too long and in too many other situations, as well – had no voting voice in the congressional approval of the D.C. voucher program,” Zirkin continued. “LCCR has long believed and fought for D.C. voting rights and true representation in Congress. In this case, whether or not to have vouchers in D.C. public schools should have been decided by the local city council and not the U.S. Congress, where the D.C. representative does not even have a vote. It is worth noting that the D.C. city council passed a resolution opposing vouchers.”

“We simply cannot afford to weaken federal civil rights laws and allow discriminatory barriers to education, which unfortunately is just what the D.C. voucher plan will do,” Zirkin concluded. “LCCR will be closely monitoring the civil rights implications of the program.”