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D.C. Schools, Chesapeake Bay, Metro Among Beneficiaries as Federal Spending Measure Pours Money Into Washington Area

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By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009

The giant 2009 spending bill signed by President Obama yesterday contains increased funds for D.C. students, millions of dollars to revive the Chesapeake Bay's dwindling oyster population and money for Metro cars, buses and bike lockers.

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The $410 billion measure passed five months after the fiscal year began. Much of the government's funding has been held to fiscal 2008 levels since October.

D.C. officials welcomed the legislation's $35 million boost over last year for the city's struggling education system. The measure provides $54 million for the city's public schools, public charter schools and voucher program; $35 million for college tuition aid; and what was described as a one-time $20 million payment to recruit and train principals and create better school programs.

However, the law also places in doubt the future of the D.C. private school voucher program, established by a Republican-led Congress in 2004. That program must be reauthorized by Congress and approved by the city government to win funding beyond the 2009-10 school year, according to the legislation.

The voucher system benefits about 1,700 students, who receive up to $7,500 a year to attend their choice of private or parochial school.

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) fought to extend the program, but his amendment failed.

"In drafting this bill, Democrats put their political agenda ahead of educating our children," he said.

Many Democrats, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), oppose public financing for private schools.

City Administrator Dan Tangherlini did not respond when asked whether the city would fight to keep the program but said he hoped students already in it could finish up at their schools.

"The kids getting [grants] now shouldn't be victimized by that debate" over the program, he said.

The spending measure provides millions for roads and public transit in the region. About $29 million is set aside for the long-planned extension of Metro to Dulles International Airport, and $1.9 million will go to improve the Interstate 95/Fairfax County Parkway interchange.

In addition to paying off the final $34.7 million owed for 52 new Metro rail cars and putting $13 million toward MARC rail line improvements, the allocation will provide $3 million for intersection improvements at each of three military facilities expecting an influx of employees because of the military's Base Realignment and Closure plan. They are the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, Md.

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