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Posted at 5:28 PM ET, 01/25/2011

Gray, Brown differ on school vouchers

By Mike DeBonis

UPDATED 8:45 P.M.

A popular Wilson Building parlor game of the moment is trying to discern where exactly Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown will part political company in the coming weeks, months or years.

So far, all is hunky-dory in mayor-council political relations -- including their joint support for a potential new council member. But now, thanks to House Speaker John Boehner, there is clear daylight between Brown and Gray on a hot-button issue: school vouchers.

Brown is on the record for them. In 2009, he joined six of his colleagues in signing a letter to President Obama and Congressional leaders asking them to reauthorize and fund the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. That letter went unheeded, and the program hasn't taken new students since 2008.

Gray is on the record against them. He sees the federally funded program as another example of unwarranted congressional experimentation with the District, saying in a statement last night that it was an example of "decisions that should be made by the residents of the District of Columbia." (How this principle applies to the charter school system, which congressional Republicans authorized in 1998 and Gray now adores, is another question.)

Now Boehner, who co-authored the original voucher law, is set to introduce a bill that would restart the program, and he sees vouchers as a winning issue for a caucus looking to appear bipartisan. That means there will be hearings with lots of GOP members righteously wanting to know why the program was canceled.

A situation like that will put a lot more scrutiny on an honest policy disagreement between two independently elected officials. Typically, the foundation of the District's approach to dealing with Congress has been to present a united front. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Chairman Linda Cropp were pro-voucher, and helped make the case for the program.

Perhaps one small factor in the vouchers' demise in the last Congress was that Mayor Adrian Fenty offered only lukewarm public support for the program, and Gray offered none at all.

UPDATE, 8:45 P.M.: I may have overreached in that last bit of analysis. Cropp was not strongly on the record for or against vouchers during the 2003-2004 debate on the issue, according to a review of news clips and the memories of at least one political observer. Also: Gray testified at a 2008 congressional hearing, backing Fenty in support for D.C.'s three-sector" education model -- i.e., traditional public schools, charters and vouchers.

By Mike DeBonis  | January 25, 2011; 5:28 PM ET
Categories:  The District  
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Comments

Both Brown and Gray don't differ on driving expensive leased SUV's at the expense of DC taxpayers. In my opinion, DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown will be the worse Council Chair since DC Home Rule.

Posted by: illegalalien | January 26, 2011 1:54 AM | Report abuse

If it weren't for the overlord angle, I wonder where Gray would be on this. I, for one, think it is great to add federal monies into the hands of DC residents. It isn't much, but it is something. And for the kids and families who are able to benefit from it, all the better.

Posted by: LukasWP | January 26, 2011 6:45 AM | Report abuse

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