The DC voucher language provides no guarantees of fairness in student acceptance

The Senate DC voucher language allows private schools to discriminate based upon religion, disability, gender, English language proficiency, and academic performance. The House DC voucher language also allows religious-based discrimination.

Voucher proponents claim that students would be selected by participating private schools on a random basis through a lottery. This ignores two important points. First, the lottery only applies if there is an overflow of applications at one particular institution. Second, history has shown that a lottery system still allows for discrimination because there is nothing to prohibit schools from prioritizing students. For example, both the Milwaukee and Cleveland programs have limited anti-discrimination language and lottery systems that purport to select students on a random basis. But they each continue to discriminate by giving priority to students of the same religion as the school’s, those already attending the private school, students whose siblings are attending the school, students with high academic skills, students without disabilities, etc. According to the original director of the Cleveland voucher program, these schools “didn’t want to be hampered in terms of accepting students.”2

A 1999 PFAWF/NAACP analysis of schools’ written random selection plans revealed that, in Milwaukee, more than one third of the 88 participating schools were not complying with the law, and some had written plans granting illegal preferences to students based on religious, academic, and other grounds.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (an independent agency that investigates compliance with civil rights laws) conducted an investigation of voucher admission practices in August 1999 on behalf of PFAWF and the NAACP following PFAWF’s analysis of voucher schools’ written selection plans. It found a number of schools charging illegal fees, engaging in improper screening and selection of applicants, and violating students’ religious freedom by discouraging parents from taking their children out of religious activities.

Despite a settlement with two of the schools found to be discriminating, one of the schools, Marquette University High School, still emphasizes in its admission policies that voucher students may jeopardize their chances of admission if they do not take the entrance exam: “Among those rights for a student applying solely under the low income Choice program is the ability to avoid items 2 through 5 [the entrance exams] above. However, a student applying solely under the low income Choice program may have a lower chance of admission. Low-income parents wishing to maximize their son’s chances of admissions will want to apply under both processes.”

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