On September 5, by a vote of 205 to 203, the House passed an amendment to the District of Columbia appropriations bill to authorize a school voucher program in the District of Columbia. The vote was confirmed September 9, when the House again approved the amendment 209 to 208. (For more on D.C. vouchers, see “May Norton’s Nightmare Come True”)
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis (R.-Va.), is part of the bill allocating funds for the Nations Capital, which the federal government controls directly under the U.S. Constitution.
Under this amendment, students could receive up to $7,500 toward elementary or high school tuition at a private school in the District of Columbia. The program would be open only to students who reside n the Nations Capital and whose family income is below 185% of the federal poverty level (below approximately $17,000).
Teachers unions, vital political allies of the Democratic Party, are fearful of the accountability and higher standards that educational competition would bring and have lobbied hard and successfully in Congress to defeat any voucher provision.
Republicans argued on the House floor that educational vouchers particularly help poor children to get a better education. “This creates an historic opportunity for families and students of the District of Columbia,” said Davis. “This amendment can make a huge difference in the lives of thousands of low-income children from non-performing schools in the District. It represents a shot at a better education and, of course in turn, a better life.”
Democrats and a few liberal Republicans took the opposite side, arguing that it is better to keep pouring money down the rat hole of public education rather than helping poor children find a decent education elsewhere.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.-D.C.) was the only member to speak against the amendment, a sign that many Democrats fear their public remarks against vouchers could come back to harm them in future elections. She made a truly unusual argument.
First, she called misleading the claim that District of Columbia schools spend the most per pupil with the worst results. The claim, she said, does not take into account the high number of special needs children in D.C. burdening the system.
“Remember, Montgomery [Md.] and Fairfax [Va.] counties spend a whole lot of money on children that are not at all disadvantaged, and huge numbers of mine are severely disadvantaged,” she said, referring to several nearby areas.
But then Norton turned around and claimed that the District of Columbia public schools cannot afford to let those same disadvantaged children leave the public school system and enter private schools. She argued the system would then lose the federal funds that follow the special needs children. “We will lose $25 million in combined federal and local per-pupil funding because schools are funded on a per-pupil basis, and that is in addition to the $40 million that the schools are already being cut this year,” she said, without recognizing the obvious contradiction.
The measure narrowly passed and then passed again Tuesday night, September 9, 209 to 208 . It now proceeds to the Senate, where it will have the unlikely support of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.).
President Bush has promised to sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.
A “yes” vote was a vote to establish a school voucher program in the District of Columbia. A “no” vote was a vote against the amendment.
|FOR THE AMENDMENT: 205||AGAINST THE AMENDMENT: 203|
|REPUBLICANS FOR: 201
Davis, Jo Ann
DEMOCRATS FOR: 4
|REPUBLICANS AGAINST: 14
DEMOCRATS AGAINST: 188
INDEPENDENTS AGAINST: 1
NOT VOTING: 26
|REPUBLICANS (13):||DEMOCRATS (13):||INDEPENDENTS (0)|
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