House Committee Rejects Amendment To Expand D.C. Voucher Program

An attempt to breathe new life into Washington, D.C.’s federally funded school voucher plan failed March 25 when a U.S. House committee rejected a proposal to fund it though 2014.

The House Committee on the Budget voted 23-14 to turn aside an amendment by U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) that would have poured $140 million into the program to keep it running for another five years. Jordan proposed diverting a portion of the funds put aside to subsidize digital television converter boxes to pay for the D.C. plan.

Americans United wrote to every member of the committee prior to the vote, urging them to reject any amendment that would expand the D.C. program. AU pointed out that the plan, which passed the House by one vote in 2003, was funded as a five-year experiment slated to expire in 2008.

In its letter, AU noted that several studies have shown that students taking part in the plan are performing no better academically than their public school counterparts. The organization also pointed out that vouchers have siphoned money away from D.C.’s public schools.

“On all counts – improving achievement, using funds effectively, providing opportunities for students in schools in need of improvement and improving public schools – the D.C. voucher program has failed,” observed the AU letter. “Accordingly, extending the program is unjustified.”

The vote does not mean the battle is over. The Obama administration opposes vouchers generally, but has indicated that students currently enrolled in the D.C. program might be allowed to continue. Some proponents of extending the D.C. plan have vowed to raise the issue again in Congress and may hold hearings on the matter.

Prominent among them is U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who supports the D.C. program.