D.C. Scholarships Have Bipartisan Backing

Monday, August 3, 2009

THE QUESTION of bipartisan support for health-care reform has gained much attention -- the significance being that such backing gives the effort more credibility. It's important, then, to take note of those senators from different sides of the aisle who have come together in a valiant bid to save the District's school voucher program.

The broad-based group last week introduced a bill that would reauthorize for another five years the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which enables low-income parents to send their children to private schools instead of to failing public schools. Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) would strengthen the program by increasing the amount of the scholarships and tightening requirements on participating schools. They would continue Congress's commitment to education reform in the District by providing additional, and equal, resources for the city's public charter and school system.

Mr. Lieberman summed it up: "This is not . . . a Democratic or Republican program. It's not a liberal program or a conservative program. It's a program that puts children first. And I am happy to say that it's working." The program has more applicants than slots; rigorous study has shown significant improvements in student reading, and parents are happy that their children are in schools that are safer and of better quality. We, like Mr. Lieberman, have great confidence in the efforts of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to fix the city's public schools. But children needing an education today simply can't afford to wait until those reforms are realized. To expect them to do so is unconscionable.

In unveiling the legislation, Mr. Lieberman talked of ongoing conversations with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Ms. Rhee and Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a main opponent of the vouchers who is largely responsible for legislation cutting off funding for the program. We hope they can arrive at a consensus that includes the reversal of Mr. Duncan's bad decision to rescind new scholarships for 216 children for the soon-to-start school year. A solution is needed that won't compromise the education and future of some of the District's neediest children.

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