Feinstein: Let D.C. Try Vouchers (op-ed, The Washington Post) 07/22/03
GLAA to Feinstein: Don't impose vouchers on District
Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
PO Box 75265
Washington, DC 20013
July 22, 2003
The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Feinstein:
We are writing to express our dismay and disappointment at your apparent decision to abandon your longtime opposition to private school vouchers, by voting to impose a federally funded “experimental” school voucher program on District residents. We also object to your claim in your op-ed in today’s Washington Post that you are doing this out of respect for the District.
You wrote, “I believe that education is a local issue and that if the mayor wants this program, it should be given the chance to work.” If education is a local issue, then you should not ignore the will of DC voters, who have repeatedly and overwhelmingly rejected vouchers. Both Mayor Anthony Williams and School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, whom you cited in your op-ed, have flip-flopped on the issue and broken their written promises to the citizens of the District. This is not why we elect people to office.
In 1998, then-candidate Williams responded to GLAA’s mayoral questionnaire, “I oppose vouchers using public money for any private schools, religious or otherwise. Public money should be used for public education, including charter schools.” Just last fall, Cafritz told us, “Yes, I oppose any voucher program. It is clear that voucher programs falsely raise the hopes of low-income families and circumvent the Constitution by funding religious schools. I have spoken and written publicly against vouchers.” These are the positions they ran on, and for you to join them in disregarding the wishes of District voters is no sign of respect for home rule in the District of Columbia.
We urge you instead to support your Democratic colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee, who, along with Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), are pledged to defeat the proposal to devote $13 million in federally-funded vouchers for private schools in the District. When the Committee votes on the idea, most likely within the next week, press reports indicate that you may hold the “swing” vote in the closely divided Appropriations Committee.
As the nation’s oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights group, we have long opposed any plan that would funnel either national or local taxpayer funds into the coffers of private religious schools in the District of Columbia, most of which are controlled by churches that preach and practice a theology of homophobia.
Subsidizing schools controlled by such bigots with government money would be a political and moral outrage. In such institutions:
- Openly gay and lesbian students who refuse to “repent’ or to remain silent about their sexual orientation may be expelled -- without legal recourse of any sort.
- Students with gay or lesbian parents will see their families routinely held up to scorn.
- Students will not be allowed to form Gay-Straight Alliances, as have been started spontaneously in hundreds of public high schools across the country.
- Openly gay and lesbian teachers and staffers will be summarily dismissed, as happened earlier this year across the Potomac in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia -- without legal recourse.
- Students will be deliberately denied life-saving information about safe sex and will instead be subjected to a sex mis-education curriculum of abstinence-only-until-marriage, which condemns gay and lesbian students to a miserable life of compulsory celibacy.
Our organization helped to defeat a voucher referendum in the District, which was rejected in an 89%-11% landslide. Recent polls indicate the vast majority of District voters continue to oppose vouchers. Voucher proponents Williams, Cafritz, and Councilmember Kevin Chavous (who has also flip-flopped) do not speak for District residents, but merely confess their own inability to perform the jobs they were elected to do.
California itself voted against Proposition 38, a voucher scheme, by a margin of better than 2-to-1 in 2000. The same fate has met voucher proposals in practically every state where they have been put on the ballot. If you are eager to impose an “experimental” voucher program somewhere, we suggest you impose it on voters in your own state. We suspect that your constituents would have as little use for such rigged, federally dictated “experiments” as we in the District do.
We are encouraged that you still have reservations about the constitutionality of using public funds to finance school vouchers for religious schools. We remind you that the chief defenders of the constitutionality of such schemes on the Supreme Court include Justices Scalia, Rehnquist, and Thomas, whose hostility to gay men and lesbians was so grossly and shamelessly expressed in their recent dissents in the Texas sodomy law case.
We have long considered you as a friend of the gay and lesbian community and as a defender of self-government for the residents of the District of Columbia. Please do not betray your legacy now.
Cc: Equality California
Human Rights Campaign
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
Bay Area Reporter
San Francisco Bay Times
Mom Guess What! Newspaper
Gay and Lesbian Times
The Bottom Line
The Orange County and Long Beach Blade