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A CAPITAL IDEA: Key Leaders in Washington, D.C., Push for Vouchers for D.C. Students

"education is a local issue and that if the mayor wants this program, it should be given the chance to work."

By deciding to postpone a floor vote on the 2004 spending bill for the District of Columbia until early September, House leaders effectively put off a vote on a separate bill that would create a private-school voucher program in Washington, D.C. Believing that legislators would be less likely to vote against an appropriations bill, Republican leaders have worked together on a plan that would link the DC School Voucher Bill(H.R. 2556) to the spending bill for the District.

The D.C. spending bill would earmark $10 million for a new school choice program in Washington, D.C., that would provide up to $7,500 to lower-income Washington, D.C., children currently enrolled in poorly performing schools to help pay for tuition at private schools in the area.

While touting the choice initiative at a Washington, D.C., charter school early last month, President Bush noted that the city’s fourth- and eighth-graders scored lower in reading than their counterparts in each of the 50 states, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading exam results. However, many educators consider such a comparison unfair because the District has an urban school system that lacks traditionally higher-performing suburban scores from which most states scores receive a boost. According to a study by Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute, Washington, D.C., schools have the third-lowest graduation rate in the country (58 percent) ahead of only Georgia (56 percent) and Florida (55 percent).

Recent evidence that the voucher movement is gaining ground in the District includes the public endorsement of D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who have now joined the fight for private school vouchers. Mayor Williams says his support is contingent upon increased federal funding for Washington, D.C., public schools. Sen. Feinstein, in a letter to the Washington Post, said that she is supporting the proposal because she believes that “education is a local issue and that if the mayor wants this program, it should be given the chance to work.”

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