Education Opinion

D.C. Vouchers and Home Rule

By Sara Mead — April 11, 2011 2 min read
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The deal struck between Congressional Republicans, Democrats, and the administration to avert a federal shut down included new funding to resurrect the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship (aka “vouchers”) program. This, among other riders affecting D.C. government and residents, has touched off a new round of anger about Congressional impositions on D.C. Home Rule.

I care deeply about D.C. Home Rule. The disenfranchisement of voters who live in our nation’s capital, and Congress’s frequent choice to stymie the will of D.C. voters and their elected representatives on issues from guns to gay marriage, should be a foul mark on our national conscience.

But I’m not sure D.C. vouchers are the best focus for Home Rule ire. Sure, the creation and re-creation of the voucher program are yet another instance of Congress imposing its will on D.C.--but so was the defunding of the program in 2009! Since the Opportunity Scholarships have been created (which, let’s remember, was initially done with the participation and support of D.C. elected officials), there is no circumstance around them--existence or non-existence--that does not reflect Congress imposing its will on D.C. That’s the unavoidable reality of the bizarre and wrong situation D.C. finds itself in because Congress has the power to create and negate laws for the city.

Since anything Congress does with respect to D.C. vouchers would be imposing its will on the city, it’s worth asking whether or not the will Congress is imposing thwarts the will of D.C. residents (as has clearly been the case on other issues). That’s not at all clear: D.C. voters have never voted on D.C. vouchers. Some polling suggests a majority of D.C. voters support vouchers, but that polling was funded by voucher support advocacy groups. The original voucher program was created with the support of D.C. elected officials. The dumbest provisions of the program (the limitation of vouchers to private schools in D.C.) exist specifically at the behest of D.C. elected officials. And D.C. politicians seem more upset about the Home Rule violations than the vouchers themselves (which also come with an additional $40 million for DCPS and the city’s charter schools--which has to be welcome right now).

Home Rule is a serious issue. D.C. residents should have the right to govern themselves and have their votes be counted. Other impositions on D.C. in the appropriations deal are much more troubling than the inclusion of the voucher program.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.