House Passes D.C. Voucher Bill

The House has passed legislation reauthorizing a D.C. school voucher program. The vote has been high priority for departing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Passed by 240-191, the program provides $45 million in scholarships to D.C. students from low-income families to attend private schools. It is has received opposition by most Democrats, including President Barack Obama, who has tried to defund it severally. Boehner termed the program as “the little engine that could.”

Boehner, who has co-authored the No Child Left Behind law, also a former House Education Committee chair has made the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program one of his major issues during his term in Congress. In 2003, the program was first created while Boehner was the Education Committee chairperson. Later in 2011 though with opposition from the Obama administration, it was renewed by the Congress.

The D.C. scholarship program remained dear to Boehner all along. He had invited students from Catholic schools in D.C to the State of the Union annually. Recently he was a host to a group of Catholic students while Pope Francis was visiting the capital last month.

Statistics according to Boehner showed that nearly 90 percent of high school seniors graduated in comparison to the 60 percent overall rate for the public schools in D.C.

Boehner during House floor debate said, “Yes, this issue is personal to me, and has been for a long time,” “But frankly, it ought to be personal to every single member of this body. Those of us who work here, who make a good living, we owe something to the kids in this town. We owe the kids in this city a chance — a fighting chance — at success,” Boehner added.

The White House opposed the bill saying “Instead of using Federal resources to support a handful of students in private schools, the federal government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students,”

Before the passage, the House rejected an amendment from D.C.’s non-voting representative, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), which failed on a voice vote. It was to limit the schools to 50 percent student’s enrollment using the voucher.

Norton said that “We are here so that Speaker John Boehner has a capstone to his political career. The D.C. voucher program is his pet project, not D.C.’s; she added that D.C. residents know how to govern their affairs signalling that interference from outside quarters will not be tolerated.

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