School-voucher Program Approved, Igniting Opponents

( [email protected] ) Jan 23, 2004 11:47 AM EST

WASHINGTON – School-voucher program was approved by the Senate after winning 65-28 vote yesterday, Jan. 22. The voucher program will be federally funded for the first time in the United States.

Immediately after the decision, opponents of D.C. vouchers went on a rally in a Capitol Hill. Although many supporters call it a “pilot” program, opponents view it as disingenuous because of its unclear evaluation process of the effectiveness of the program in comparison to performance of other public schools.

"We rally in opposition to the cynical and misguided action of an element in the Congress today to impose voucher legislation on the District of Columbia," said Jeffrey Haggray, executive director-minister of the D.C. Baptist Convention. Haggray is the father of two children in D.C. public schools.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's non-voting delegate to Congress, said they are unwilling and unable to impose vouchers on their home school districts, criticizing on the lack of proper evaluation process.

Norton said, "even before this bill is implemented, there is no way to compare the children in the program to children in public schools."

Norton was joined at the rally by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who vowed to introduce legislation in the Senate to repeal the voucher provision, thus forcing a vote on the issue by itself.

"Today, a major battle has been lost," Durbin said. "The real goal is to hold public education to a standard it cannot meet."

The $13 million voucher program will grant scholarship of up to $7,500 a year per low-income student in Washington to attend private schools, including religious schools. It also would provide $27 million in additional funding for traditional D.C. public schools as well as public charter schools in the District.

The bill would authorize the voucher program for a period of five years.

The voucher was out of consideration by the Senate because of the strong opposition from the Democrats and Republicans removed the measure from the D.C. appropriations bill that passed Nov. 18. However the measure came back when Washington Mayor Anthony Williams decided to reverse opposition and support the bill.