No Vouchers? No Funding

Senate could cut off D.C. school funds

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Joseph Isadore Lieberman, product of the Stamford, Conn., public schools, has long been a friend to the District of Columbia. In the Senate, he has been a consistent champion of the District’s fight for congressional representation. But as he nears the end of his quarter-century in the Senate, Lieberman is putting that record at risk with an assault on D.C. sovereignty.

Lieberman is a supporter of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the voucher program that has been in suspended animation since the Obama Administration began. He has joined with new House Speaker John Boehner in an effort to revive D.C. vouchers. But on Wednesday, Lieberman added a threat.

At a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on vouchers, Lieberman, who chairs the committee, said, “I think the extra funds that come to D.C….will be in serious jeopardy if the opportunity funding is not in this three-part program of public and charter schools.”

Ranking Republican Susan Collins echoed Lieberman.

The GOP budget includes $60 million for D.C. schools -- $24.5 million for traditional public schools, $20 million for charter schools, and $15.5 million for opportunity scholarships. The senators were suggesting that if the city doesn’t want the voucher money, the other $44.5 million could be withheld.

The city’s top two officials testified before the panel -- on different sides of the issue. Mayor Vincent Gray said, “My emphasis was, and continues to be, on building a solid public education system consisting of traditional public schools and charters.” Gray seemed thrown off guard by the threat to cut off funding.

But D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, in his first significant split with Gray, told the committee, “The data suggests that students participating in the program are benefiting from the experience -- academically and otherwise. I’ve heard it from families that they feel empowered and uplifted by expanded school choice.”

That’s a debate worth having. But even voucher supporters -- like myself -- should be angry about the effort by Lieberman and Collins to coerce the District into coming down on their side.

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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