- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

President Obama’s budget proposal is expected to include plans to extend federal funding for a D.C. school-voucher program that permits underprivileged children in the District to attend private schools.

An administration official Wednesday detailed the proposal, which is scheduled to be released Thursday and comes as the politically divisive voucher program stands to be eliminated next year.

The omnibus spending plan signed by Mr. Obama in March cuts the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships Program in 2010 and makes the program’s future contingent on the approval of the D.C. Council and Congress.

Mr. Obama’s fiscal 2010 budget provides $12.2 million for the program with the intention of allowing students enrolled to remain in the program until they graduate. However, no new students would be granted scholarships.

The voucher program was created in 2003, and this school year provides scholarships of up to $7,500 for about 1,700 students to attend private schools. Students eligible for the program come from households with an income that is no more than 185 percent of the poverty line.

Funding the D.C. scholarships has been a point of contention between political parties, with Republicans supportive of the program and Democrats opposing it.

A crowd in favor of vouchers rallied on Wednesday at Freedom Plaza in Northwest to call on local officials to support the program.

Parents and children were joined by D.C. Council members past and present and former Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who said “every child in our city should have the opportunity to succeed.”

“To put our kids first, we need to fight to see that the U.S. Congress, the D.C. Council and my successor all support school choice for our children,” Mr. Williams said.

Supporters said they delivered a petition to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty with more than 7,400 signatures of city residents “who support quality educational options, including the reauthorization and strengthening of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.”

Mr. Fenty has said officials should not disrupt the education of students currently enrolled in the program.

A study conducted through 2006 by the Education Department’s Government Accountability Office found no significant difference between voucher and public-school students in test scores or perception of safety.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report

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