March 10 2010

Politics, Not Procedure, Killed D.C. Voucher Vote in the Senate

Vicki E. Alger

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT.) and a bipartisan coalition of U.S. Senators have been working to save the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for current and future students. Their latest effort was to introduce an amendment yesterday to the American Workers, State and Business Relief Act to enact the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, which would extend and expand the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Joining Sen. Lieberman in offering the amendment were Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Robert Byrd (D-WV), John Ensign (R-NV), and George Voinovich (R-OH).

The Washington Post rightly recalled that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has been promising to allow a vote on the Opportunity Scholarship Program-yet hasn't. Sen. Lieberman also tried to work with Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), who authored the original language effectively killing the program. But Sen. Lieberman was forced to withdraw the amendment. "Not germane" a spokesmen for Sens. Reid and Durbin told the Post.

Nonsense.

As Sen. Lieberman explained  (See Amendment No. 3381 to Amendment to No. 3336, pp.  S1293-S1293, about halfway down):

In my view, this amendment did belong on the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act--the underlying bill before the Senate--because, obviously, the opportunity to seek and receive a better education enables our children to be better, more productive workers, to help our businesses and, of course, to grow our national economy. Achievement gaps in our schools have a profound effect on the quality of our workforce and on the future of our economy. Most importantly, the quality of our schools has a profound effect on the quality of the lives of the children who go to better schools and get a better education. ... The DC voucher program has proven to be the most effective education policy evaluated by the Federal Government's official educational research arm so far. [Emphasis added]

The real reason for squashing a vote has little to do with procedure, and everything to do with politics. As the Post explains:

This is exactly what the program's chief antagonists, the teachers unions, want; the National Education Association lobbied fiercely against Mr. Lieberman's amendment. Given that a rigorous, federally mandated study confirmed the program's effectiveness and that local leaders such as D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee have supported it, we understand why Mr. Reid sits on his hands. What possible explanation could Democrats devise for killing something that has been so crucial in the lives of thousands of poor D.C. children? How would it look? No, better to do nothing and hope the issue goes away.

Thankfully, Sen. Lieberman and his allies will continue fighting. In fact, Sen. Lieberman intends to introduce the SOAR Act as an amendment to the next bill that comes to the Senate floor.

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