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Mrs. Rhee said in the interview that she is “neutral” on vouchers, and school officials say the system can accommodate the return of voucher students, who will have to return to public schools in the fall of 2010.

The chancellor sees the political battle as a symptom of a widespread impatience for reform that has led to 30 percent of the District’s school-age children being enrolled in charter schools and an additional 20 percent in private schools.

Parents, she said, are putting their children first, and she wants the unions to do the same. For starters, Mrs. Rhee wants teachers to agree to performance-based pay, a major point of contention between her and the Washington Teachers’ Union.

Mrs. Rhee is getting a little more sympathetic hearing from the union’s parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

AFT President Randi Weingarten has said everything but vouchers should be open to negotiation “provided it is good for children and fair to teachers.”

Mrs. Rhee said she has spoken with Ms. Weingarten and hopes the she can kick-start talks with the D.C. union. But if Ms. Weingarten doesn’t stand by her pledge, then it’s just “rhetoric,” the chancellor said.

Mrs. Rhee is responsible for about 46,000 students. She said they must be considered foremost when officials are negotiating.

“The vast majority of our kids are not prepared for college or life. … They’re struggling,” said Mrs. Rhee, who stays in touch with some of the system’s top students after they graduate.

“My goal is that our children graduate with options [and] without remediation. … We need to give all kids options,” she said.

Mrs. Rhee said the federal stimulus bill will provide some money to “fill the hole” created by shrinking city revenues.

Other money can be used for innovative learning, which she already is doing to try to turn around schools that failed to meet yearly progress requirements under the No Child Left Behind law.

One such idea is to form partnerships with other schools systems - an idea that her most recent predecessors were encouraged to try but never did.

Friendship Public Charter School in the District will work at Anacostia High School, in Southeast. Bedford Academy High School, in New York, will work to reform Coolidge and Dunbar high schools in Northwest. The programs will begin in fall 2010.