School Choice & Charters

Amid Wrangling, House Approves D.C. Vouchers

By Erik W. Robelen — September 17, 2003 2 min read

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

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
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Recruiting and Retaining a More Diverse Teaching Workforce
We discuss the importance of workforce diversity and learn strategies to recruit and retain teachers from diverse backgrounds.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
Student Well-Being Webinar Boosting Teacher and Student Motivation During the Pandemic: What It Takes
Join Alyson Klein and her expert guests for practical tips and discussion on how to keep students and teachers motivated as the pandemic drags on.
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Holistic Approach to Social-Emotional Learning
Register to learn about the components and benefits of holistically implemented SEL.
Content provided by Committee for Children

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Principal
Meredith, New Hampshire
Inter-Lakes School District
Elementary Principal
Washington State
Wenatchee School District
Principal
Meredith, New Hampshire
Inter-Lakes School District
Elementary Principal
Washington State
Wenatchee School District

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Letter to the Editor Are NOLA Charters a Mixed Bag?
To the Editor:
The opinion essay by Douglas N. Harris about how New Orleans’ education reforms post-Katrina are relevant to the COVID-19 era (“As Schools Recover After COVID-19, Look to New Orleans,” Sept. 30, 2020) highlights some basic improvements in the NOLA system but downplays the most significant aspects of those changes: the impact on people of color.
1 min read
School Choice & Charters Home Schooling Is Way Up With COVID-19. Will It Last?
The shift could have lasting effects on both public schools and the home-schooling movement.
10Homeschool IMG
RyanJLane/E+
School Choice & Charters Opinion Challenging 3 Common Critiques of School Choice
A new volume from Corey DeAngelis and Neal McCluskey challenges some of the familiar but suspect assertions that pepper public debates about school choice.
3 min read
School Choice & Charters Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read