The U.S. House of Representatives rejected two efforts to add private school vouchers to a special-education bill on April 30.
During floor debate over the "Improving Education Results for Children With Disabilities Act of 2003" (H.R. 1350), U.S. Reps. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) offered amendments to add voucher programs to the bill. Both measures were easily defeated, with DeMint's amendment losing by 240-182 and Musgrave's by 246-176.
Americans United and 70 other national organizations signed a joint letter urging members of Congress to oppose adding vouchers to the bill. Signers included public education and civil liberties groups, as well as several organizations that advocate for special-education students.
Several moderate Republicans joined with Democrats to vote against the voucher proposals.
"This should be a message to President Bush," said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "A substantial majority of the House does not think vouchers are wise or workable."
Lynn noted that the votes were especially significant since they are the first votes in Congress on this issue since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of Cleveland's school voucher program in June.
But House voucher proponents aren't about to give up. Later this year they are expected to attempt to pass legislation that would require the Washington, D.C., public school system to begin providing vouchers.
D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams twice campaigned as a voucher opponent, but in May he stunned the Washington political establishment by switching sides and endorsing the voucher bill. Williams' turn-around came after a meeting with Education Secretary Rod Paige and other Bush administration officials. As part of the deal, the administration agreed to increase funding for D.C.'s public schools.
If enacted, the Washington plan could become the most extensive in the nation. The leading congressional proposal, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), would allocate vouchers worth $11,000 per student.
D.C.'s public schools serve about 67,000 students. Opponents of the plan note that most students could not participate in the program, since private schools in the area only have about 1,200 slots available.