House panel approves D.C. school voucher bill
A House committee approved a bill Thursday to extend the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, advancing a key priority of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that has long divided District leaders.
The program provides federal funds to help low-income District students pay for private school tuition. Democrats on the Hill moved two years ago to close the program to new entrants, only allowing current scholarship recipients to continue. But Boehner personally offered a bill in January to reopen the program to new entrants, and the measure was passed Thursday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a 21-14 vote.
The tally was mostly along party lines: All Democrats present voted against the measure, while all but one Republican -- Rep. Todd Platts (Mo.) -- voted in favor.
Boehner and other program supporters -- including City Council Chairman Kwame Brown and former D.C. mayor Anthony Williams -- contend that the scholarships are vital to giving local students the chance to escape a bad public school system. Rep. Darrell Issa (R), chairman of the Oversight panel, agrees.
"Today's vote continues the bipartisan momentum to restore educational choice and opportunity for schoolchildren in the District of Columbia," Issa said Thursday. "Independent studies and reports from parents and students have validated the educational benefits the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has provided to low-income D.C. students. Without the robust and steadfast opposition of teachers' union special interest groups, I believe there would have been consensus of support for this commonsense proposal. "
But the program's opponents -- including teachers' unions, Mayor Vincent Gray and most congressional Democrats -- contend that the scholarships divert attention and resources from the broader task of fixing the whole school system. (Boehner's bill includes extra funding for the District's public and charter schools, as well as for the scholarships.)
At a hearing on the bill last week, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) condemned what she called Republicans' "single-minded focus on public funding of private schools only in the District," suggesting they were using the city to advance a narrow ideological agenda.
Since clearing the committee, the measure can be added by Boehner to the House floor schedule. It faces a tougher road in the Senate, where Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) has offered a companion bill but Democratic leaders are opposed.
| March 10, 2011; 4:32 PM ET
Categories: Ben Pershing, Congressional Oversight, D.C. Council, Education, Kwame Brown, Mayor Fenty
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