U.S. Senate Considers, Then Shelves D.C. School Voucher BillThe U.S. Senate considered a bill in late September that would give vouchers up to $7,500 for private school education for at least 1,700 public school students in the District of Columbia before withdrawing the bill from consideration due to the threat of a Democratic filibuster.
The D.C. voucher program has become a national issue, with supporters and foes alike viewing it as a possible first step toward reviving debate over a nationwide voucher program. It would be the first federally funded voucher plan. President Bush unveiled the D.C. program as part of a $75 million multicity school choice initiative last winter.
A U.S. House plan that passed in mid-September included $10 million for vouchers for at least 1,300 students.
The $13 million Senate voucher plan was part of the District’s $5.6 billion budget for 2004. The “opportunity scholarships” would go to low-income children to attend private or religious schools. The plan also includes $26 million for District charter and regular public schools. The Republicans say they will return the program to the floor for consideration later in October as part of a broader spending bill.
D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, along with the school board president Peggy Cooper Cafritz, support the voucher program. Williams was present in the Senate chamber on Sept. 25 for debate over the bill to underscore his support, marking the first time since 1979 that a D.C. mayor appeared on the Senate floor. Earlier in the week, Williams lobbied Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., in support of the bill.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., said their offer to support the bill with certain conditions was rejected. The terms included limiting the availability of vouchers to students in failing schools and requiring that private schools charge voucher students no more than the value of their vouchers. The compromise also would have required private schools to meet the same testing standards that public schools must meet under the No Child Left Behind Act.
The Senate did approve an amendment by Sen. Feinstein that would require voucher students to take the same standardized tests as other D.C. public school students and would require their teachers to have a college degree.
Several interest groups such as the New York–based Legislative Education Action Drive have targeted certain senators with ads in their home states to influence their position on the bill. The group supports the D.C. voucher program and is running ads against senators opposing the bill.
— Compiled by Ben Hammer and wire reports
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