School Vouchers Get Early Spotlight From New Speaker
||Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Speaker John A. Boehner is known for having worked across party lines to help enact the “No Child Left Behind” education law during the George W. Bush administration. But the Ohio Republican is moving quickly in this Congress to line up against Democrats and the Obama administration on the divisive issue of school vouchers.
Boehner and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., will formally begin an effort Wednesday to reauthorize federally funded vouchers for low-income parents in the District of Columbia who want to transfer students from poor-performing public schools to private and parochial schools.
Boehner began lobbying for the legislation during Tuesday’s State of the Union address, where his guests for the evening included children, educators, parents and activists involved in the voucher program.
Congress authorized D.C. vouchers for 1,000 students in 2004, but the administration halted the program’s funding for new students after President Obama took office.
In addition to resuming the issuance of vouchers to new students, Boehner and Lieberman would increase the $7,500 maximum award to $8,000 for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and to $12,000 for high school students. They also would provide additional money for D.C. public schools.
Supporters say vouchers help underprivileged children escape troubled schools and get a quality education. But education union officials and many Democratic lawmakers argue that public funds should not be used to support private schools at the expense of public school systems. They also contend that students receiving vouchers do not necessarily perform better than their public school counterparts.
Republicans have traditionally supported school vouchers, although Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former Education secretary, says additional measures are needed to ensure accountability. He has suggested that students receiving vouchers take the standardized tests that the federal elementary and secondary education law (PL 107-110) requires in public schools.
Boehner and Lieberman are longtime supporters of school vouchers, along with California Republican Reps. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the new chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Darrell Issa, who now chairs the Oversight and Government Reform panel.
Boehner tried unsuccessfully to get the voucher program reauthorized in the last Congress, but his chances of moving legislation through the House are better now that he leads the majority party. Still, finding room in the budget for vouchers will be difficult when the new GOP majority is vowing to make deep spending cuts.
Lieberman’s best strategy in the Democratic Senate will probably be to attach vouchers to unrelated legislation as an amendment. He tried that twice unsuccessfully in the last Congress, attracting only a few Democratic supporters, including Dianne Feinstein of California, Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner of Virginia.