This was a vote on an amendment by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) that would have redirected funding intended for a school voucher program ($20 million annually) in the District of Columbia to 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.) This amendment was offered to legislation reinstituting a school voucher program in the District of Columbia that had been phased out in 2009.
The school voucher program reinstated by the underlying bill 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.
Norton urged support for her amendment: “We [in D.C.] know how to create choices for ourselves, choices that our parents want, choices that our parents create and pay for because they want their own choices, not the choices of the Republicans of the House of Representatives. In a democracy, the choices of a self-governing local jurisdiction trump all other choices, and especially the choices of Members who are not responsible to the people of the District of Columbia, who do not have to stand for election in the District of Columbia but get a free ride, as I do not.”
Norton also argued: “Commend them [D.C. residents] for the dazzling array of almost 100 public, accountable charter schools they have created. Relieve their long waiting lists, which now contain thousands of students waiting to get into our charter schools. The District of Columbia did not appreciate being an unwilling object of a Republican experiment once. With your cavalier defiance of our choices, we like it much less the second time around.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) urged opposition to the amendment, arguing that funding for school vouchers should not be redirected to charter schools: “…The evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt by any reasonable, statistical measurement: the parents want this [school voucher] program; the students want this program; the community wants this program; even some elected officials want this program. They just happen to not be ones we have heard from on the other side of the aisle today. Reading scores are up. Educational attainment is up. Graduation rates are up.”
The House rejected this amendment by a vote of 185-237. Voting “yea’ were 181 Democrats and 4 Republicans. 230 Republicans and 7 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected an amendment that would have redirected funding intended for a school voucher program in the District of Columbia to charter schools.