School Choice & Charters

Amid Wrangling, House Approves D.C. Vouchers

By Erik W. Robelen — September 17, 2003 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

By the slimmest of margins, the House of Representatives last week approved a school voucher experiment for low-income families in the nation’s capital.

The 209-208 vote on Sept. 9 was largely along party lines, with three Democrats breaking ranks to back the voucher amendment, and 15 Republicans opposed.

The next step in the increasingly fierce battle over federally financed vouchers for children in Washington is the Senate floor, where the outcome is uncertain. One crucial question is whether Senate Democrats will seek to filibuster the spending bill for the District of Columbia government— which in both chambers contains the voucher initiative—if they cannot muster the votes to eliminate it outright.

“He hasn’t made a decision,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., when asked whether his boss might invoke a filibuster. “I expect him to go to great lengths to defeat this on the Senate floor.”

The House bill contains $10 million in fiscal 2004 for the tuition vouchers, which would be worth up to $7,500, while the version approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month included $13 million.

The vote last week was the third on District of Columbia vouchers by House members in a matter of days. The same amendment was approved 205-203 on Sept. 5, but Democrats called for a revote.

Timing and Tactics

Also on Sept. 5, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington’s nonvoting representative in the House, proposed an amendment to strip out the $10 million in voucher funds, but it failed on a tie vote of 203-203. It would have succeeded if Ms. Norton, a Democrat, could vote on the House floor.

Some voucher opponents were upset by the timing of the Sept. 9 revote. It was held at the same time that Democratic presidential candidates were beginning a debate in Baltimore sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, and Democratic leaders had asked the Republican leadership of the House to reschedule it. All members of the Black Caucus except the chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., stayed for the vote. Reps. Dennis J. Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., both contenders for the White House, did not vote.

In addition, Republicans kept the vote open well past the official time had expired. Ultimately, GOP leaders persuaded Rep. Ernie Fletcher, R- Ky., to reverse his “no” vote of Sept. 5, after they promised him the House would agree to Senate language requiring that only children in schools identified as low-performing under the No Child Left Behind Act could receive the vouchers. The House language as passed states that such children would be given priority.

In the end, 17 members—10 Democrats and seven Republicans— did not vote on Sept. 9.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed in [the] vote,” said Marc Egan, a lobbyist for the National School Boards Association, which opposes the voucher plan. “We think it’s pretty clear, though, that leadership had to go to great lengths and use all tactics available just to squeak it through, and I think that speaks loud and clear to just how much opposition there is.”

Delegate Norton warned her colleagues last week: “If you are willing to vote to give public money to private schools this year, you better be prepared to answer back home.”

But Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, replied: "[W]e hope that the mayor and the school board do a great job trying to improve the city schools. But while they are out there working,” he added, “why should we not take the chance ... of offering 2,000 children a chance to go to a better school?”

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Opinion What's the State of Charter Schools Today?
Even though there's momentum behind the charter school movement, charters face many of the same challenges as traditional public schools.
10 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters As Private School Choice Grows, Critics Push for More Guardrails
Calls are growing for more scrutiny over where state funds for private school choice go and how students are faring in the classroom.
7 min read
Illustration of completed tasks, accomplishment, finished checklist, achievement or project progression concept. Person holding pencil tick all completed task checkbox.
Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty
School Choice & Charters How a District Hopes to Save an ESSER-Funded Program
As a one-time infusion of federal funding expires, districts are searching for creative ways to keep programs they funded with it running.
6 min read
Chicago charter school teacher Angela McByrd works on her laptop to teach remotely from her home in Chicago, Sept. 24, 2020.
Chicago charter school teacher Angela McByrd works on her laptop to teach remotely from her home in Chicago, Sept. 24, 2020. In Montana, a district hopes to save a virtual instruction program by converting it into a charter school.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
School Choice & Charters Q&A How the Charter School Movement Is Changing: A Top Charter Advocate Looks Back and Ahead
Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, plans to step down as leader of the group at the end of the year.
6 min read
Nina Rees, CEO of the National Public Charter School Association.
Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, emphasizes that she has "always thought of [charter schools] as laboratories of innovation with the hopes of replicating those innovations in district-run schools."
Courtesy of McLendon Photography