Senate Battle Over Omnibus Bill Blocks DC School Vouchers — For Now

Effort To Move Bill To Final Vote Falls Short

Senators voting to block the omnibus spending bill in Congress Tuesday took a courageous stand against a number of objectionable provisions – including the proposal to force an experimental private school voucher program on the District of Columbia, where educators, parents and students have no voting representation in Congress.

“Once again, the Senate leadership is trying to use a gigantic, catch-all bill to pass some of its most damaging policies – ideas that could never pass in a stand-alone bill,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way. “There are too many worms in this apple to put it on the taxpayers’ plate.”

“The DC voucher program is among the worst examples. Despite opposition from District parents, community leaders, and the District’s non-voting Representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the GOP has insisted on the voucher program. It’s a policy that allows private schools to discriminate based upon disability, gender, limited English language proficiency and academic performance. And, it still allows religious discrimination against employees. The D.C. voucher program would benefit just 1,700 students in the district, yet siphon off millions of dollars that could be used for proven programs like class size reduction, parental involvement and teacher training – programs that would benefit all of the 66,000 students who are in the district’s public schools.”

The Senate leadership needed 60 votes to bring debate on the bill to a close yesterday, but failed on a 48-45 vote. The fate of the bill remained unclear Tuesday as lawmakers debated the next steps.

“Earlier Bush Administration school voucher programs have been rejected by the Senate, and rightly so. The attempt to sneak this major policy change through on a bill crowded with important issues and popular spending programs, and impose it on a population with no voting representation in Congress is just plain wrong,” said Tanya Clay, deputy director of public policy for People For the American Way. “We will continue to work with our allies in Congress to defeat a policy that weakens public education and harms public school students.”

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