Truth-tellers, liars and equivocators

Congressional support for vouchers in D.C. leans right, but it's there

August 16, 2010 - 10:45 AM
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Eleanor Holmes Norton made a questionable claim about the chances for D.C. school vouchers. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

She’s the District’s most popular politician, but a safe position didn’t prevent Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton from debating her challenger in the Democratic primary, ANC 4B commissioner Doug Sloan, on WTOP’s The Politics Program with Mark Plotkin on Friday. (TBD airs taped versions of the show each Sunday at midnight and at 9 a.m..)

As you will see when we get the video up here sometime today, things between Sloan and Norton got surprisingly feisty. One of the sharper lines Sloan was able to draw between the two was on support for federally funded private school vouchers in the District. Congressional Democrats allowed a five-year pilot program to end in 2009, and Norton thinks the voucher funding should be shifted to charter schools in the District. Sloan supports reinstating the voucher program. Norton argued that was unrealistic because “that program has no support on either side of the aisle ... and it's been overwhelmingly defeated in the Senate...” (Thanks to The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis for originally pointing this out.)

Are D.C. school vouchers dead on arrival in Congress, as Norton says?

Not quite. In March 2009, a vote to restore funding for the voucher program failed 58-39. Only two of the 'yes' votes came from Democrats. And in March of this year, another attempt failed 55 to 42, again with minimal Democratic support.

Republicans and conservatives have long held the belief that vouchers could go a long way toward improving education. A Republican Congress and president instituted the voucher funding in 2004, and Republicans pressured President Barack Obama to offer a compromise proposal that allowed students who were receiving vouchers to continue doing so. The compromise passed.

While most of the support for vouchers came from Republicans, the lead sponsor of the latter attempt was Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who caucuses with the Democrats and is considered to be liberal on most domestic issues. (Lieberman is considered to be the program's biggest fan in the Senate.) And the late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also backed the measure. (Democratic opposition to vouchers is often linked to teachers' unions, a major party constituency.)

Contrary to Norton, there's support for vouchers on both sides of the aisle in Congress. The support is much stronger on the right than on the left, a situation that prevents vouchers from going very far in a Democratic-controlled Congress. If control of Congress switches hands after the midterm elections, however, things could be different.

She might be popular, but what she said was Total Malarkey.

Total Malarkey
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