The Reagan Administration will not push for a congressional vote on its compensatory-education voucher bill, but will instead be content with continued, vigorous debate on the issue, a senior Education Department official said last week.
“We’re obviously turning to look toward next year,” when the Congress must reauthorize the Chapter 1 program, the official said. “I doubt we’ll push hard for a vote [this year].”
The comments of the official, who asked not to be named, appear to mark the first departmental acknowledgment that Congressional opposition will force Secretary of Education William J. Bennett to shelve his top legislative priority for at least a year.
The official conceded that the House and Senate education committees would defeat the bill, and he suggested that the Administration would not try to bypass the committees by bringing up the measure as an amendment to another bill
Opponents had hoped for a vote on vouchers to provide a demonstration of deep opposition to the idea.
“I hope we get a vote,” Bruce Hunter, director of federal-state relations for the Council of Chief State School Officers, said earlier last week. “We’ll crush them, well drive a stake through their heart.”
Mr. Bennett’s legislation—which was introduced in the Congress last fall—would convert Chapter 1 aid into vouchers that parents of educationally disadvantaged children could use at public or private schools of their choice.
Both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress have condemned the plan, saying it would undermine public education and harm disadvantaged students.
Mr. Bennett has strongly defended the voucher bill. He testified that increased choice and access to private schools would improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, and called choice “an idea whose time has come.”
An earlier version of the legislation failed to move after its introduction in 1983.
This year, the proposal has been hotly debated as part of the increasing national controversy over educational choice.
With an eye on next year’s revision of the Chapter 1 law, Representative Paul Henry, Republican of Michigan, is preparing a voucher alternative for consideration by the House Wednesday Group, a coalition of moderate Republicans.
While it was not in final form last week, sources who have read the bill said it differs “radically” from current policy and from Mr. Bennett’s bill.
One source said it resembles the special-education program, making students, rather than schools, the recipients of the federal aid. Each educationally disadvantaged student served by the $3-billion-plus program would receive an individualized education plan.
A version of this article appeared in the April 02, 1986 edition of Education Week