- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

An Arizona congressman reopened old wounds with D.C. officials yesterday by introducing a bill for school-choice vouchers to be used by D.C. students.
The bill, introduced yesterday by Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, would set up a private, independent D.C. Scholarship Corporation funded by Congress to the tune of $7 million in fiscal 2004, $8 million in fiscal 2005 and $10 million each fiscal year after that until 2008.
Mr. Flake said President Bush has made funding available for vouchers and that Congress should take the opportunity to better serve District parents and children by passing his bill.
"The president has made it clear that he would like to sign a school-choice bill for the District and we should take the opportunity to give the most needy families an option to choose which schools are better for their children," Mr. Flake said.
District children of families living below the poverty level would be eligible for scholarships of as much as $5,000. Children living in households earning salaries above poverty but below 185 percent of the poverty level could receive $3,750. All other children would be eligible for enhanced-achievement scholarships of $800.
Mr. Flake's bill is a copy of legislation introduced in 1997 by former Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican and House Majority Leader. Mr. Armey's bill passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by President Clinton.
After President Bush's proposed fiscal 2004 budget containing $756 million for school-choice programs including one in the District Education Secretary Rod Paige met with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, and Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, to press for support of a voucher program.
As The Washington Times reported last week, Mr. Paige said he was pleased with the meeting where increasing school choice in the District was discussed and predicted it would be the first of many meetings.
Surrounded by several District parents and their children, Mr. Flake said his bill should not be viewed as a "right-wing conspiracy," as some opponents have described it, and that the bill will not force vouchers down the throats of D.C. residents.
"Parents who want a choice are driving this, and parents, not Congress or teachers unions or city officials or anybody else, ought to decide where and where not to send their children to school," Mr. Flake said.
Several parents such as Marie Smith, 54, whose 7-year-old son attends a private school in Southeast, at great expense to her family, said she welcomes the idea of vouchers.
"I think it would be helpful, wonderful if we could get some aid from Congress so I can continue to serve my son," Mrs. Smith said.
D.C. officials who met with Mr. Paige last week said they were committed to school choice but that there was little federal officials could do to entice them into a school-voucher program.
Mr. Flake said that although he feels it is not Congress' business to interfere with educational matters in other jurisdictions, in the District, Congress has "jurisdiction and we ought to be giving parents an option."
City officials said Mr. Flake's bill is simply another opportunity for Congress to trample on home rule and intrude on city affairs.
"Jeff Flake should learn that D.C. is an independent jurisdiction that pays more taxes than his own we are the second highest in the country and Congress has no more right to interfere with District education than they do with any other jurisdiction," said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat.
She said D.C. residents and city officials have spoken with the increasing number of charter school students in the city, the largest system in the country.
"But if he wants a fight he will get one, a big one," Mrs. Norton said.

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