This was a vote on final passage of legislation reinstituting a school voucher program in the District of Columbia that had been phased out in 2009. This school voucher program allowed low-income students in D.C. to receive subsidies for private school tuition. The measure had been enacted under Republican control of Congress during President George W. Bush’s administration in 2003. In 2009, the Democratic-controlled congress discontinued federal funding for the program. This vote took place in 2011, after Republicans had regained control of the House of Representatives.
Republicans generally supported school vouchers, contending that they provided low-income children with the opportunity to attend high-quality schools that they otherwise could not have afforded. Democrats generally opposed vouchers, arguing that using taxpayer funds for private schools drained money from the public school system.
In addition to funding school vouchers, the bill also provided federal funds for D.C. public schools and charter schools. (Charter schools are publicly funded and do not charge tuition—but are not subject to all of the rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools.) Specifically, the measure provided $60 million per year for D.C. schools through 2016. Of the $60 million annual total, the bill provided $20 million for traditional public schools, $20 million for charter schools, and $20 million for school vouchers.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) urged support for the bill: “It reauthorizes and makes improvements in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program [the D.C. school voucher program], which was created by Congress in 2003 to provide eligible low-income District parents with an opportunity to send their children to a private school of their choice. But it does more. It also provides an equal amount of money for chartered public schools, which are greater in the District of Columbia perhaps than anywhere else in the nation, and an equal amount for improving the public school system in the District of Columbia….this Act [bill] gives twice as much money to the two categories of public schools--conventional schools and chartered public schools--than it does to the scholarship program. However, the scholarship program is a focus of this bill, and it's a focus because this program has proven to be successful. In fact, 74 percent of all District residents, when polled, favor the continuation of this [voucher] program…”
Rep. John Kline (R-MN) also supported this bill: “This innovative program works and serves as a real alternative for parents who want to give their children the educational opportunities they never had. Yet, despite this proof, the administration and some in Congress are determined to destroy this groundbreaking program. Without the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, thousands of parents will be denied an opportunity to make decisions about their children's education. Equally troubling, thousands of children will be denied the opportunity to achieve their full potential, leaving them unequipped to succeed in a 21st century workforce. We must put children first and stop a vocal minority from taking vital opportunities away from thousands of D.C. families.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) opposed the measure: “Let me be very clear: public funds should support public education. But this bill, which would authorize $300 million to support education in the District of Columbia, includes an authorization for the expenditure of $100 million over 5 years to enable a tiny fraction of D.C. students to attend private schools….the D.C. voucher program has not resulted in better student achievement. The Institute for Education Sciences evaluated this program and found that in 2010, there was no overall statistically significant impact on student achievement in reading or math. By comparison, reading and math test scores did improve among students enrolled in the District's public schools and its public charter schools from 2007 to 2010.”
Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) also opposed the bill: “I rise today in strong opposition to this bill to expand the failed private school voucher program in Washington, D.C. In this time of budget strife and cutbacks for public school districts all across the country, this is the wrong time to take federal money away from public schools and give it to private schools….multiple congressionally mandated Department of Education studies have concluded that the program has not improved these students' academic achievement in reading or math. Further, the studies found the voucher program to have had no effect on student satisfaction, engagement, motivation, or students' feelings of security. The studies found no significant impact on students' career aspirations, participation in extracurricular activities, homework completion, reading for fun, or tardiness.”
The House passed this bill by a vote of 225-195. Voting “yea” were 224 Republicans and 1 Democrat. 186 Democrats and 9 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the House passed legislation reinstituting a school voucher program in the District of Columbia that had been phased out in 2009.