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Posted at 9:25 PM ET, 01/24/2011

Boehner, Lieberman aim to revive D.C. voucher program

By Mike DeBonis

House Speaker John Boehner will introduce a bill Wednesday that aims to revive a school voucher program in the District, nearly two years after Democratic opposition to the program led to its phase-out.

Boehner is set to unveil the bill one day after President Barack Obama is expected to call for greater political comity in his State of the Union address. Boehner is presenting the bill as an opportunity for bipartisanship.

"If the president is sincere about working together on education reform, we should start by saving this successful, bipartisan program that has helped so many underprivileged children get a quality education," Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

Several participants in and supporters of the voucher program will be seated in the House chamber for the address at Boehner's invitation, including Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), a longtime voucher supporter, is expected to introduce a companion bill in the upper chamber and join Boehner at a Wednesday press event.

Democrats pushed successfully in the previous Congress to prevent re-authorization of the program, which provides up to $7,500 yearly toward tuition in private schools, including religious schools. As a compromise, legislators approved an Obama proposal to allow about 1,700 children then currently receiving vouchers to continue through high school. But no new students have were admitted to the program for the 2009 and 2010 school years.

The program, known officially as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, was first passed by Congress in 2004, with the support of some city leaders, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).

Boehner, chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee at the time, co-authored the bill. A product of Catholic schools, Boehner has long taken a particular interest in the District education system. For several years, he and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) hosted an annual dinner that raised millions of dollars for D.C. Catholic schools.

In a video released in early January, Boehner proclaimed himself to be "all in for National School Choice Week," which is celebrated this week.

As speaker, Boehner is unlikely to sponsor many pieces of legislation himself. His willingness to do so in this case signals the personal importance of the D.C. voucher issue.

Lieberman, meanwhile, has also been a longtime advocate for the scholarship program. The Connecticut Democrat-turned-Independent, who announced last week he would not run for reelection in 2012, has also been a fervent supporter of D.C. voting rights but has broken with some local Democrats, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, on the voucher issue.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is an outspoken supporter of the city's popular charter schools, which are favored by many of the "school choice" advocates who support vouchers. But Gray has long opposed vouchers as an improper congressional foray into local affairs, and he reiterated that opposition Monday evening.

"These are decisions that should be made by the residents of the District of Columbia," Gray said in statement.

The voucher program stands to be an early point of friction between Gray and the new Republican majority in the House.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the newly installed chair of the House oversight subcommittee with jurisdiction over city affairs, said in a Monday interview that he believes the program deserves a second look, saying he was "very interested in hearing from ... the students and parents whether or not they thought the Opportunity Scholarship Program worked, whether or not they wanted to see it continued."

"if it wasn't continued, why wasn't it continued?" Gowdy said he wanted to know. "I think everybody on all sides would like that conversation."

By Mike DeBonis  | January 24, 2011; 9:25 PM ET
Categories:  The District  
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Comments

It is clear some members of the Senate and House believe American citizens living in the District of Columbia should not be heard in the affairs of America or in the affairs of our own home town.

Senator Joseph Lieberman and Speaker John Boehner will offer legislation in the Congress to revive a FAILED federal voucher program, D.C. Scholarship Opportunity Program in the District of Columbia. In pushing this initiative, neither Senator Lieberman nor Speaker Boehner can claim they are doing this on behalf of the people of the District of Columbia, most certainly not for District public school students.

The US Department of Education has reviewed this voucher program and determined it to be UNSUCCESSFUL. The people of the District in referendum on vouchers have voted against it. This fact is repeatedly ignored by Senator Lieberman, Speaker Boehner, reporters, and editorial writers for newspapers like The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

The people of the District do not need socially liberal minded friends like Senator Lieberman or ‘we know what is best conservatives’' like Speaker Boehner. While Senator Lieberman and Speaker Boehner have met secretly with supporters of this FAILED program, neither gentleman has the integrity or courtesy to meet with District residents who oppose this FAILED voucher program. Despite requests to meet with residents in an open meeting about their voucher bill, Senator Lieberman and Speaker Boehner have refused.

By their previous vote to strip Delegates from the District and the US territories of a vote in the House Committee of the Whole, the House GOP and Speaker Boehner demonstrate an open hostility democracy and show they do not feel the people of the District are truly Americans. The way Senator Lieberman and Speaker Boehner seek to move their legislation, without a public hearing giving opponents the opportunity to be heard highlights their political arrogance and intellectual disdain for the people of the District.

Under the leadership of Speaker Boehner, House Republicans passed a bill to repeal President Obama's health care bill. During the health care debate one critical claim made by congressional Republicans was the President's health care bill was being forced on the people of America. How is this any different than what Senator Lieberman and Speaker Boehner are presently doing to the people of the District of Columbia?

The intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy of Senator Lieberman and Speaker Boehner cannot be seen more clearly as they push this FAILED voucher program on the residents of the District. It is doubtful Senator Lieberman and Speaker Boehner would permit any other member of the Senate or the House to force this FAILED federal legislation on the people of Connecticut or the 8th District of Ohio.

However, they will stick it to the people of the District.

How dastardly, but yet typical.

Robert Vinson Brannum
rbrannum@robertbrannum.com

Posted by: robert158 | January 24, 2011 10:12 PM | Report abuse

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