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Posted at 9:38 PM ET, 01/24/2011

Boehner to introduce D.C. voucher bill

By Mike DeBonis and Ben Pershing

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 and Ben Pershing  | January 24, 2011; 9:38 PM ET
Categories:  Eleanor Holmes Norton, Vincent Gray  
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Next: DeMorning DeBonis: Jan. 25, 2011

Comments

The Republicans are living in the past. They keep bringing up old ideas not new ideas. They think people are stupid, this is a DC residents decision, not some bloted, crying politician who is not a DC resident.

Posted by: ggant | January 25, 2011 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Here we go. The Big House is going to tell the plantation what to do. The GOP loves to tinker and use social experiments in a place no one voted for them. (Yes conservatives, we ALL know about the Constitution, so save your playbook rants) Pathetic. And conservatives complain about "liberal" social experiments. Save it.

Posted by: jckdoors | January 25, 2011 9:01 AM | Report abuse

It's time to get serious about ending this Congress lords over the District stuff. What, some politician from a state far away with NO stake in the outcome (what John's kids go to Dc public schools?) can dictate local school policy. It's also time to stop the silly, never gonna happen DC statehood talk.

What can easily happen (with money and time) is returning DC to Maryland. All that's needed is for MD to say let's do it and for the DC mayor and staff to agree. Congress can put up the money for the transition.

It's only money. We've wasted billions and billions for folks thousands of miles away in some democracy-quest, why not some to fix a democracy issue closer to home.

Posted by: tslats | January 25, 2011 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Only one easy answer constitutionally:

Statehood

Posted by: coumaris | January 25, 2011 10:52 AM | Report abuse

My main objection to vouchers is that they will allow the Council of Conservative Citizens to run a segregated de facto public school system in the South. Implement strong prohibition against using vouchers at schools that discriminate, and we can talk about it.

Posted by: carlaclaws | January 25, 2011 10:59 AM | Report abuse

House Speaker Boehner's impending proposal to revive the school voucher plan imposed on the District by Bush and the GOP is objectionable for at least the following reasons: 1. It is opposed by newly elected Mayor Gray and elected congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton; 2. DC voters rejected a similar tax-code voucher scheme in the '80s by the super-landslide margin of 89% to 11%; 3. Boehner's bill would force taxpayers nationwide to pay for faith-based private schools that separate children by religion, class, ethnicity, ability level, etc.; 4. Tens of millions of US voters have rejected vouchers or their variants by landslide margins in 26 statewide referenda from coast to coast; 5. Vouchers are the tool with which conservative extremists hope to weaken public education; 6. Vouchers make no sense ar a time when all levels of government are facing serious financial challenges; 7. Most Americans live in states whose constitutions prohibit the use of public funds to aid faith-based private schools; 8. Taxing citizens for the benefit of sectarian schools violates our constitutional principle of separation of church and state and the religious freedom of all citizens; 9. Vouchers would amount to coerced public support for private schools that do not play by the same rules as public schools. Boehner and Sen Joe Lieberman are showing their scorn for our public schools, the will of the people,and the religious freedom of all. Their proposal should be rejected by both parties. -- Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty, www.arlinc.org

Posted by: EddDoerr | January 25, 2011 12:43 PM | Report abuse

House Speaker Boehner's impending proposal to revive the school voucher plan imposed on the District by Bush and the GOP is objectionable for at least the following reasons: 1. It is opposed by newly elected Mayor Gray and elected congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton; 2. DC voters rejected a similar tax-code voucher scheme in the '80s by the super-landslide margin of 89% to 11%; 3. Boehner's bill would force taxpayers nationwide to pay for faith-based private schools that separate children by religion, class, ethnicity, ability level, etc.; 4. Tens of millions of US voters have rejected vouchers or their variants by landslide margins in 26 statewide referenda from coast to coast; 5. Vouchers are the tool with which conservative extremists hope to weaken public education; 6. Vouchers make no sense ar a time when all levels of government are facing serious financial challenges; 7. Most Americans live in states whose constitutions prohibit the use of public funds to aid faith-based private schools; 8. Taxing citizens for the benefit of sectarian schools violates our constitutional principle of separation of church and state and the religious freedom of all citizens; 9. Vouchers would amount to coerced public support for private schools that do not play by the same rules as public schools. Boehner and Sen Joe Lieberman are showing their scorn for our public schools, the will of the people,and the religious freedom of all. Their proposal should be rejected by both parties. -- Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty, www.arlinc.org

Posted by: EddDoerr | January 25, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

boehner that money could be better spent on something else, this is a real waste of taxpayer dollars, anything i thought the GOP was about less spending?

Posted by: JeroRobson1 | January 25, 2011 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Makes you want to cry.

Posted by: blankspace | January 25, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

"[...]Boehner (D-Ohio)[...]" is inaccurate. He is certainly not that type of D.

Posted by: Real_Sidler | January 25, 2011 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Thank goodness for the republican Speaker of the House looking out for poor kids in the education maze in the District of Columbia. This has been a successful program that was supported by former Mayor anthony williams and former Councilmember kevin chavous. Hurray for the children that may benefit again. The Speaker has been very supportive with other members of congress in supporting the children in the District of Columbia over the past years.

Shame on the democrats who stopped this program. Many of whom have not needed financial help with their education.

Posted by: bill121 | January 25, 2011 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Boehner sure loves to throw taxpayer dollars to Catholic schools.
DC should declare itself the District of Cathaholics and then maybe they'd get voting rights.

Posted by: MarilynManson | January 25, 2011 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I beleive the D.C. Voucher is indeed a good program and probably be expanded, because it parents an educational option for their children. Having said that, I also believe it should be completely funded with DC taxes.

Posted by: PracticalIndependent | January 25, 2011 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Our Founding Fathers also dealt with the issue of government mixing religion and education together. James Madison in particular wrote against that:

http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/sacred/madison_m&r_1785.html
Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance was written in opposition to a bill, introduced into the General Assembly of Virginia, to levy a general assessment for the support of teachers of religions. The assessment bill was tabled, and in its place the legislature enacted Jefferson's Bill for Religious Liberty.

excerpts:
Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.

Because Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body.

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

Because the Bill violates the equality which ought to be the basis of every law, and which is more indispensible, in proportion as the validity or expediency of any law is more liable to be impeached. If "all men are by nature equally free and independent," all men are to be considered as entering into Society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.

Posted by: PinkMuslimah | January 28, 2011 9:04 AM | Report abuse

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