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Rep. Kline helps push bill for religious school vouchers in Washington, D.C.

Rep. John Kline, chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, is one of five sponsors of a bill that would continue a controversial religious school voucher program in Washington, D.C.. The program, which was launched for a five-year trial in 2003, was found to have failed to improve student achievement in the district, but did have a benefit for social conservatives — it helped fund religious education in the nation’s capitol city.

HR471 would provide D.C.parents with $7,500 vouchers, called scholarships under the bill, to use to send their children to any school in the district. During the program’s pilot, it was shown that the program increased graduation rates by 12 percent but did not have any impact on academic achievement.

A report by the U.S. Department of Education, released in June 2010, found, “There is no conclusive evidence that the [program] affected student achievement. On average, after at least four years students who were offered (or used) scholarships had reading and math test scores that were statistically similar to those who were not offered scholarships.”

But what the program did do was funnel taxpayer money to religious schools; 80 percent of the vouchers were used for religious schools, and 53 percent of those were for Catholic schools. Under the new program, Protestant Christian and Islamic schools are expected to participate.

Catholic hierarchy has vociferously argued for the voucher program as the number of Catholic schools in the nation drops each year.

“The children at Holy Redeemer were, unlike so many of their peers, on the path to college,” wrote the administration of Notre Dame University when the program expired in 2009. “So we were deeply saddened to learn that the impending termination of the OSP has put the school in an untenable situation, leading the pastor to conclude that the school must be closed.”

Constitutional watchdogs say the program is not a good idea.

“I can’t imagine a worse time to unveil a new federal subsidy for religious schools,” the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State said in a statement. “This proposal would add to the federal budget deficit while subsidizing schools that indoctrinate and discriminate in hiring.”

“Public funds should be directed toward improving public schools, not private schools that are unaccountable to the American people,” he said. “Religious schools serve the interests of their religious communities, and taxpayers should not be forced to foot the bill for them.”

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