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Does Obama’s Opposition to Vouchers Doom ESEA?

By Alyson Klein — March 29, 2011 1 min read
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So, as I’m sure lots of folks in Washington know, the House of Representatives tomorrow is expected to pass a bill resurrecting the D.C. voucher program. This program is a top priority for Rep. John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House. And it’s sponsored in the Senate by Joseph Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

The Obama administration, to no one’s surprise, has come out against the bill, saying:

The federal government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students. Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement. The administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students. Rigorous evaluation over several years demonstrates that the D.C. program has not yielded improved student achievement by its scholarship recipients compared to other students in D.C. The administration opposes targeting resources to help a small number of individuals attend private schools rather than creating access to great public schools for every child.

But they don’t say: We will definitely veto your bill. UPDATE: Eduwonk notes, rightly, that this may leave the door open for compromise.

Over at Flypaper, Mike Petrilli said that this dims (and maybe even totally dooms) the chances of an ESEA reauthorization this year.

But despite that, it’s not clear to me that there was ever truly an explicit deal here, where Boehner said to the administration, give us the D.C. vouchers, and we promise to give you reauthorization. That’s partly because I get the sense that Boehner and Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, are still trying to get a feel for where the new, more conservative House freshmen want to take the reauthorized law.

Those freshmen are still getting up to speed on this very complicated domestic policy issue. Plus, they’re an independent bunch, so there’s no telling whether they would have (or still will) sign on to GOP leaders’ vision of where to take the new law, whatever that ends up being.

So, even if the administration had said, yup, sure thing on D.C. vouchers as long as you give us ESEA, I’m not sure if the House would have then absolutely gone straight to work on, and finished, a reauthorization bill this year.

But I do think there’s a rhetoric issue here. This is a top top priority for Boehner, an outspoken school-choice advocate. It almost certainly creates bad feelings that the administration isn’t supporting the only bill he’s sponsoring this Congress, particularly an education bill.

And I’m sure that if ESEA isn’t passed this year (it’s already April and we haven’t seen a bill, so don’t hold your breath) many folks may cite the administration’s decision not to support the D.C. voucher program as a big part of the reason. Will they be right? Comments section is open.

UPDATE: Check out what my fellow Edweek blogger, Sara Mead, has to say about this programs’ reach.

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