Departing Speaker of the House [crscore]John Boehner[/crscore] took one last shot at President Barack Obama before leaving as the House passed his extension of D.C.’s school voucher program Wednesday night.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, first approved in 2003, provides scholarships to low-income families in D.C. to attend private schools. The program is popular with school choice advocates and with D.C. parents, but is strongly opposed by teachers unions who say it simply diverts funding away from public schools for little gain. In 2009, Obama phased out funding for the program, but it was renewed in 2011 in a push by Boehner and Sen. [crscore]Joe Lieberman[/crscore]. Last year, over 1,400 students benefited from the program by attending 47 different schools, most of them religious.
Now, the program could be renewed again through 2021, thanks to a bill that was authored by Boehner and only introduced after he announced his intention to step down as speaker. Boehner spoke on the bill’s behalf on the House floor, occasionally choking up while describing the importance of school choice to him. (RELATED: Anti-Catholic Law Torpedoes School Voucher Program)
“This issue is personal to me,” he said. “While it’s my name on the bill, the best champions for this program are some of the most fearless kids you’ve ever seen … Those of us who work here, make a good living, we owe something to the kids in this town. We owe these kids a chance, a fighting chance at success.” Boehner is the voucher program’s most significant advocate in the House, and making it his final bill shows that he wants to ensure the program survives well beyond his tenure in Washington.
Boehner’s bill, passed 240-191, will tweak the program in a handful of ways if it becomes law. Besides increasing its annual funding to $20 million a year, it will also require any participating students to take the same standardized tests as students in public schools, so that their achievement levels can be easily compared. The extension will also allow students already attending private schools to qualify for the vouchers, as well as those currently in public schools.
Obama, House Democrats and the D.C. City Council all oppose the measure, but Obama hasn’t said he’ll veto it if it passes.
“We oppose the D.C. voucher program for the reasons we oppose all voucher programs: because vouchers don’t work, and in a period where every dollar matters, public funds must be directed to public schools,” said Washington Teachers’ Union president Elizabeth Davis in a statement released prior to the House vote. “The D.C. program has proven ineffective and lacks accountability to the citizens of the District of Columbia and federal taxpayers.”
Federal research has shown that program participants do not show statistically significant gains in academic ability compared to public school students, but they are more likely to graduate high school and attend college.
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