Senator Olympia Snowe and the DC Voucher Program


Senator Snowe was good enough to reply to an email I sent her regarding her recent vote against the DC school voucher program.  She was one of only four Senate Republicans to vote against it.

What was her rationale for voting against a highly successful program that has freed hundreds of DC’s poorest students from the disaster that is DC public schools?

Read for yourself:

snowe letter.jpg

Let’s review this carefully.

For some reason, the bulk of her reply has nothing to do with the DC voucher program, but consists instead of a thorough description of her 2002 vote – almost seven years ago now – against a provision to allow a handful of states and cities to experiment with school vouchers.  This seemingly incongruous information is included, it would appear, in order to support her claim to have been a long-time opponent of school vouchers, which she clearly is.

But why oppose them, and why oppose the DC voucher program specifically?  Only a single sentence in the letter is devoted to answering those questions: “I have concerns that voucher programs undermine the public school system.”

Some questions in reply:

With regard to the DC public school system, it is probably the worst in the nation.  Every day, it does untold damage to the lives and futures of thousands of the poorest, most needy students in the nation.  Doesn’t the DC public school system need to be undermined?

If your goal is to avoid undermining the public schools, how are the DC public schools improved (un-underminded?) by scrapping this small but highly successful voucher program? The DC public schools lost no money as a result of the program (it was funded directly with federal dollars), so no additional funding will go to DC schools once the program is shut down.  How does ending this program make the DC schools better?

What about evidence that the program is working?  Are we to ignore it?  A new federal study says students in the program are doing better.  Perhaps in 2002, when you cast the vote to which you refer in your letter, there was little evidence that voucher programs worked.  This one does, though, according to the U.S. Department of Education.  So if the children in the program are doing better, and the children that are not in the program are doing no worse, why end a program that is clearly helping students to learn?  Are you prepared to sacrifice the educational gains of hundreds of students in order to prove a point?  Your vote says you are.

Given your staunch opposition to school voucher programs, even successful ones, what is your view of Maine’s own school choice system?  Today, students in certain Maine towns are given the equivalent of a tuition voucher, and are allowed to attend a school of their choice, including approved private schools.  Do you oppose this system, which has been around in Maine for more than 100 years?  Why?

Lastly, what is your take on the widespread accusations of hypocrisy that are being directed at the President, Education Secretary Duncan, and members of the Congress?  The Heritage Foundation in Washington has concluded that had the members of Congress who provided their own children with school choice voted to allow the children in the DC voucher program to have choice as well, the recent vote to end the program would have failed. Neither President Obama nor Secretary Duncan have their children in DC public schools.

My understanding is you attended St. Basil’s Academy in New York as a child, so who do you think should have school choice?  Only the wealthiest?  Only the most fortunate?

I certainly appreciate the Senator taking the time to reply to my inquiry, but her response has left me with more questions than before. Perhaps she will answer them before it is too late for the highly successful but seriously threatened DC voucher program.