Murray Helps Defeat School Voucher Amendment

Jun 12 2001

Senator Speaks Against Voucher Proposal

(Washington, D.C.) -- U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) today spoke on the Senate floor against an amendment that would have authorized a private school voucher program in three states and ten cities. The proposal, an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was defeated on a 41-58 vote. Senator Murray remains committeed to keeping public taxpayer dollars in public schools.

Senator Murray's remarks follow:

Mr. President, I am here today because I strongly believe that Senator Gregg's voucher amendment moves this country and our public schools in the wrong direction. We stand for equal opportunity for all children. This amendment might open doors to a few children, but it would shut out many others.

Here in the Senate we are fighting to improve our public schools with resources. But this amendment uses "public funds" to send a few students to private schools rather than investing in schools that serve all our children. Mr. President, we need to really think about the consequences of this voucher amendment.

In the bill before us, we are insisting on accountability for the use of federal funds. But this voucher program would really just funnel taxpayer dollars into schools that are not accountable to the public at all. Beyond this lack of accountability, let's remember that private schools don't even have to meet the same academic standards required for all public schools. Not all private schools are created equally. There are a lot of good ones, but there are some with lower quality and standards and our tax dollars would go to them as well, with no accountability.

Mr. President, private schools are important. I'm not here to speak against private schools, but I am here to speak against an amendment that would damage public schools.

Mr. President, I'd like to talk about the four simple reasons I oppose this amendment:

  • Vouchers undermine our public schools.
  • Vouchers leave children behind.
  • Vouchers mean less accountability.
  • And vouchers are a distraction from the hard but essential work of ensuring all public schools are good schools.
Our public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy, our communities and our economy. They are entrusted with giving more than ninety percent of our children the education they need to be productive citizens. Vouchers would weaken public schools by diverting already scarce funds needed for smaller classes, after school programs, better facilities and teacher training to pay private school tuition for a few, select children.

Which leads to the second reason I cannot support any voucher scheme -- private schools may reject students for almost any reason, including disability, limited English proficiency, behavioral challenges or academic deficiencies. Despite the rhetoric of the amendment, vouchers do not offer true choice for students. While parents may remove their children from public schools, no voucher system guarantees them admission to the school of their "choice." Private schools will still choose which students they will admit. So while vouchers drain money from the public schools to help a few students, they leave other students at a public school with fewer resources. That won't help all kids succeed. In fact, it may lower the quality of education for the most challenged students – effectively leaving them behind. Proponents of the underlying bill, including the author of this amendment, have said that the accountability provisions are the key to not leaving students behind.

My third objection is that this amendment would make these accountability provisions meaningless for thousands of students. This bill requires that the results of new reading and math tests in grades 3 through 8 be used to judge the quality of all public schools, and it sanctions schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress. But those accountability provisions do not apply to private schools that benefit from vouchers. If this accountability is essential to ensuring a good education, shouldn't it apply to all schools receiving federal funds? Under this voucher plan, participating private schools: do not have to give the same tests, they do not have to make adequate yearly progress, and they cannot be sanctioned. Public schools must comply with all federal, state and local civil rights, health and safety requirements. This voucher proposal doesn't even require participating private schools to protect the civil rights of school employees or to maintain the separation of church and state. Mr. President, I cannot support spending taxpayer dollars on schools with no public accountability.

Finally, Mr. President, vouchers drain away the resources and attention that should be focused on turning around low-performing public schools. Vouchers offer an excuse to those who are unwilling to make the necessary investments or to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the hard work of leading a struggling public school into success. Turning around low-performing schools is not magic. Hardworking people all across the country are doing it every day. It means investing in the things students need to succeed, like smaller classes and after school programs. It means giving teachers more time to learn and to plan. It means recruiting and retaining great principals.

Some see school vouchers as a tempting "magic bullet." Well Mr. President, there is no magic bullet. There is only the opportunity to give our children the tools they need and to work until we get it right. For generations, our public schools have opened the doors of opportunity to help Americans build a better life. These schools are still the bedrock of our communities. When a family is moving to a new town, they look for the neighborhood with the best schools. When a company is looking to expand to a new area, they look for a community with good public schools. The truth is that vouchers won't help all students succeed, and they won't help improve our public schools. I urge my colleagues not to be tempted by the false promise of vouchers as the "magic bullet," and to vote "no" on this amendment.