D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty got dinged at a Senate committee hearing this morning for his wobbly support of the District voucher program. Fenty was one of several figures who declined invitations from Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) to testify on the future of the
D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
Lieberman, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
that oversees District matters, is an outspoken supporter of the venture, which provides up to $7,500 in federally-funded tuition to 1,700 D.C. children from low-income families to attend private schools. Congressional Democrats included language in the recent omnibus spending bill that would end the program in 2010. Last week President Obama proposed continuing the program so that the students currently receiving money be allowed to finish high school.
Lieberman wants to have the venture fully reauthorized by Congress, and said today he has a commitment from Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nevada) to bring the matter to the floor for debate and a vote later this spring or in the summer.
Fenty says he supports school choice but has always been lukewarm in his public statements about vouchers. Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) the panel's ranking Republican, called out both Fenty and an avowed voucher opponent, the National Education Association, for their no-shows.
"I think it is unfortunate that they have chosen not to participate," Collins said, "since we would have welcomed their views."
Fenty did send a letter to Lieberman on Monday saying that he did not support any measures to reverse the "three-sector strategy" established by Mayor Anthony Williams that secured additional federal funds for D.C. public schools, charter schools and the voucher program. He said he also supported the President's proposal to fully fund the 1,700 students already in the program.
The closest thing to a mayoral voice at the hearing was Ronald Holassie, Fenty's "deputy youth mayor for legislative affairs," and part of the mayor's "Youth Cabinet."
Holassie, a sophomore opportunity scholarship student at Archbishop Carroll High School, offered the committee an impassioned appeal for reauthorizing the program.
"There is no 'if' 'and' or 'but' about it," said Holassie, who wants to be a physicist. "Just as I have evolved and changed so much as a person, other opportunity Scholarship Program recipients are doing so as well."
He said afterward that he was not speaking for Fenty, however, and that he was "disappointed" that the real mayor was not there.
"I think it would have helped," he said.