Congress must act soon to reauthorize D.C. scholarship program

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

DON'T BE FOOLED by the excuses offered by Senate Democratic leaders about why no vote has been scheduled to reauthorize the District's federally funded private school voucher program. The truth is that opponents know how bad it would look to vote against a program that has helped low-income, minority children get a better education. So instead they take no action and hope the program dies a slow, quiet death. Those championing vouchers are right to call out Senate leaders for their cowardly refusal to -- at the very least -- allow a fair hearing for this successful program.

For months, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), leader of a bipartisan coalition seeking to continue the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, has been trying to get floor time. He's reminded Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) that a commitment was made to allow a vote, and he tried to cooperate with Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, who said he was open to finding a way to let the program proceed. Both efforts came to naught, so Mr. Lieberman Tuesday tried to offer an amendment to the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act. That effort, too, was thwarted: "Not germane" is the explanation offered to us by spokesmen for Mr. Reid and Mr. Durbin.

Unless Congress acts soon or the D.C. government decides to assume responsibility, the voucher program, which has benefited so many students since its inception in 2004, is in grave danger. The Obama administration closed the program to new students; children currently enrolled, while supposedly assured of getting vouchers until they graduate from high school, face uncertainty as the program's administrator pulls out. This is exactly what the program's chief antagonists, the teachers unions, want; the National Education Association lobbied fiercely against Mr. Lieberman's amendment. Given that a rigorous, federally mandated study confirmed the program's effectiveness and that local leaders such as D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee have supported it, we understand why Mr. Reid sits on his hands. What possible explanation could Democrats devise for killing something that has been so crucial in the lives of thousands of poor D.C. children? How would it look? No, better to do nothing and hope the issue goes away.

Mr. Lieberman vowed from the Senate floor not to give up. He said he will look for other bills that could be subject to his reauthorization amendment. We hope he succeeds in making the Senate own up to its responsibility.

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