Sen. Durbin: Where I stand on D.C. school vouchers

Monday, December 21, 2009; A18

Regarding the Dec. 14 editorial "D.C. vouchers on life support":

This editorial misrepresented the federal appropriations process and its role in funding educational programs in the District. The language you described as being "tucked away" in the fiscal 2010 omnibus appropriations bill has been a public piece of my financial services and general government appropriations bill since July. We held two hearings on the bill and two more on D.C. school funding, and the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill 29 to 1. I've been quoted in this publication clearly expressing my position on the D.C. voucher program. To suggest I've been disingenuous is the height of hypocrisy.

The District's Opportunity Scholarship Program, created as a five-year pilot project, is about to begin its seventh year. Despite not being reauthorized, we have provided funding for two additional years provided that (1) students are attending safe schools where teachers have at least a college degree, (2) site visits of the schools are conducted (and you called that "onerous") and (3) students in the program take the same standardized tests as students in D.C. Public Schools so we can directly compare student progress -- something your editorial writer had no problem with in an October editorial ["Open to Vouchers?," Oct. 4], and something the bill pays for.

The federal contribution to the voucher program is less than 2 percent of the District's overall education budget of $1.2 billion. If the mayor and the D.C. Council think more money should be spent to expand the voucher school project, may I, as a proponent of home rule, respectfully suggest that the city use its own authority to expand the program and stop challenging Congress to ride to the rescue.

Dick Durbin, Washington

The writer (D-Ill.) is majority whip of the U.S. Senate.

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