President George W. Bush went before a group of Roman Catholic educators in January to praise parochial schools and urge Congress to pass a voucher bill for the District of Columbia.
Speaking to some 250 members of the National Catholic Educational Association in the White House East Room, Bush lauded Catholic schools for carrying out a "great mission, to serve God by building knowledge and character of our young people," and said he wanted "our public schools to live up to the standard you have set in Catholic schools."
"By teaching the word of God, you prepare your students to follow a path of virtue and compassion and sacrifice for the rest of their lives," Bush told the religious educators. "And by insisting on high standards for academic achievement, Catholic schools are a model for all schools around our country."
The president used the occasion to call on senators to approve an annual allocation of $14 million for a voucher program in the District of Columbia. He called the proposal a "major reform" of national education policy. The House passed a voucher scheme in November. The Senate will consider the plan as part of an omnibus spending bill sometime in early 2004.
Bush also said he would ask Congress for $50 million for a "national choice incentive fund."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) told The Washington Post that he was inclined to vote against the spending bill, but that he was not sure whether Senate Democrats would be able to block the measure.