January 23, 2001
Testimony on Vouchers before City Council, City of New York, Public Hearing

Good morning.  I am Evelyn Jones Rich, Chair of the Education Committee of New York City Americans for Democratic Action.  Thank you for the opportunity to present NYC ADA’s views on the issue of vouchers – taxpayer-funded payment of total or partial tuition to a religious, private or other school or to a parent.

NYCADA is the local affiliate of Americans for Democratic Action, an independent, liberal, political organization, founded in 1947 and dedicated to promoting individual liberty and economic justice through education and political action.  We count distinguished New Yorkers among our members including Stanley Lowell and Arthur Schlessinger Jr.  National membership includes outstanding personalities in the arts, the academy and public life.

NYCADA opposes vouchers for public school students to attend private and parochial schools.  Vouchers

  1. undermine public schools and public education;
  2.  violate the principle of separation of church and state;
  3. siphon needed funds from public schools;
  4. falsely promise competition and improved academic outcomes for poor children;
  5.  educate the few rather than the many;
  6.  provide access to students whose parents support religious instruction at public expense;
  7. provide insufficient funds for poor families to meet parochial and private school tuition in full; 
  8. and support individuals and institutions whose goal is to destroy public education.

Other speakers undoubtedly will flesh out the details of these assertions and add additional ones.  However, there are five fundamental points which we would make.

1.  The language around the voucher controversy is often the language of deception and false promises.  Words are used to mislead and misinform.  The terms “reform”, “competition” and “choice” are but three examples.

A new president travels today to Capitol Hill to submit to Congress his program of education “reform.”  That program will symbolize the current struggle between two forces. One force is determined to enhance public education and its central role in promoting economic well-being for all our residents as well as insuring constructive political and social change. The other force is determined to provide funds to expand parochial and other private schools.  The “reform” package will feature diminished federal support for state and local education activity.  Simultaneously, it will stress “competition” to increase parental options and influence which means support for vouchers and their counterpart – privately operated charter schools.

In this context “reform” means subsidizing parents already able to send their children to non-public schools.  “Competition” assumes the classic free market notion where there is a consumer with  perfect information who will choose perfectly. Private schools will be able to select their students.  Public schools must provide educational opportunity for all!

“Choice” means a rejection of the concept of the “common school” as a leveling force bringing all into the arena of shared values and equal opportunity. 

 ADA believes that the slogan, “leave no child behind” which the President coopted from the Children’s Defense Fund will ring hollow as he pursues the implementation of this program.

  1. Research findings around vouchers suggest that the claims of voucher supporters about their beneficial effects are untrue, incomplete or inconclusive.  John Witte (Wisconsin), Alex Molnar (Wisconsin), Cecelia Rouse (Princeton), Richard Rothstein (UCLA), Henry Levin (Stanford) challenge the beliefs of Paul Peterson (Harvard), Jay Greene (Houston) and Chester Finn (Fordham Foundation), all of whom suggest that students achieve significant academic success under this voucher program.  Public Agenda’s On Thin Ice reports that there is a pervasive lack of awareness among ordinary citizens about vouchers and their impact.  Yet, only 31% believe that struggling, low income students will do better in a voucher environment.

  2. The public has rejected voucher claims of improved academic outcomes in states where they have been on the ballot – including Michigan and California.  The courts have declared voucher programs unconstitutional in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Again, the Public Agenda study asserts that although Americans initially favor voucher proposals, as they learn more about them, Americans do not see vouchers as a solution to the problems facing our schools

  3. Vouchers send the wrong message to students – particularly those in low performing schools.  Under voucher programs the private or parochial school chooses the student. The student does not choose the school! Students with disabilities, low standardized test scores and discipline problems are not welcome candidates for vouchers.   The number of vouchers (14,500 in 1999) is small compared with the number of students enrolled in school (46.3 million in 1999).  The overwhelming majority of students will be left in the public schools. 

  4. We should support public schools.   These schools must also be improved.  Our public schools educate all children including those with disabilities.  They work to build civic values and enhance the  individual student’s potential. There are many successful schools in New York City including Annenberg Schools, magnet schools and New Vision schools. Yet, too many are failing.  Justice Leland DeGrasse of New York’s Supreme Court declared in CFE v. NY (1/10/01) that students need qualified, highly trained teachers, small class size, adequate buildings and sufficient textbooks and supplies to begin the task of meeting the new higher standards prescribed by the Regents. 

Our task is to secure the needed resources for all students in public schools in New York City and State to provide the chance they need to succeed.  NYC ADA pledges its best efforts to achieve that goal.

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