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?”

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


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.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
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.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

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 Virtual Charters in Hot Water Again. Accusations of Fraud Prompt $150M Lawsuit
Indiana officials seek to recoup more than $150 million they say was either wrongly obtained or misspent by a consortium of virtual schools.
Arika Herron, The Indianapolis Star
2 min read
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis. Rokita filed a lawsuit against a group of online charter schools accused of defrauding the state out of millions of dollars Thursday, July 8, 2021.
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings/AP
School Choice & Charters How the Pandemic Helped Fuel the Private School Choice Movement
State lawmakers got a new talking point as they pushed to create and expand programs to send students to private schools.
8 min read
Collage showing two boys in classroom during pandemic wearing masks with cropped photo of feet and arrows going in different directions.
Collage by Gina Tomko/EducationWeek (Images: Getty)
School Choice & Charters Opinion Taking Stock After 30 Years of Charter Schools
Rick Hess speaks with Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, on charter schools turning 30.
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters In Fight Over Millions of Dollars for Charter Schools, a Marijuana Tax May Bring Peace
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind a polarizing lawsuit settlement, pending certain stipulations.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
Money bills cash funds close up Getty