- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous yesterday said he will pull back his support of a voucher program in the District until President Bush provides more funding for public and charter schools.

Mr. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, said he was not pleased with Mr. Bush’s statements during Tuesday’s visit to the KIPP DC: KEY Academy, a charter school in Southeast. During a speech, Mr. Bush spoke only of his voucher-scholarship program.

“I was led to believe that the president supported the three-sector [federal funding for D.C. vouchers, charter and public schools] approach and was going to announce his support at the KIPP Academy press conference,” Mr. Chavous wrote in a letter to Mr. Bush.

“It is critical that [D.C. public schools] receive, as I have suggested, a minimum of an additional $30 million new dollars. I will not support a scholarship program unless a commitment to this sector is realized.”

Mr. Chavous told Mr. Bush he will “co-introduce a sense of the council resolution in opposition” to his voucher plan if the money doesn’t come through. He sent copies of the letter to Mayor Anthony A. Williams and all council members, Education Secretary Rod Paige and several members of Congress.

The Washington Times has reported that a Bush-backed bill would provide $10 million in tuition support for D.C. parents to send their children to private or parochial schools. The proposal was endorsed by Mr. Chavous, Mr. Williams and D.C. school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz.

Last month, Reps. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Government Reform Committee, and John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, introduced the Parental Choice and Incentive Act of 2003. The bill would provide children of low-income families scholarships of up to $7,500 to attend private institutions in the District.

Mr. Bush said Tuesday about 2,000 of the city’s 67,000 public school students could benefit. The president also said he is asking Congress for another $320 million for charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated. Mr. Bush requested $75 million in his fiscal 2004 budget proposal to initiate a pilot school-choice program.

Mr. Chavous, Mr. Williams and Mrs. Cafritz have said their support of the voucher program was contingent upon the federal government providing more funding for public and charter schools and for special education.

“I think Kevin has stepped out and I applaud him for it on this. He has been consistent,” Mr. Williams told The Times yesterday. “He’s always said this … . My own position is a little less strenuous, but I certainly commend Kevin for taking a hard line.”

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, issued a statement to city officials Wednesday in response to Mr. Bush’s visit to KIPP DC: KEY Academy.

“President Bush came to KIPP Academy, a public charter in the District, effusively congratulated the school, and then used the school as the backdrop to support vouchers for private schools,” she said in the written statement.

Mrs. Norton called Mr. Bush’s references to the $320 million nationwide funding for charter schools “misleading” since that money is a provision of federal law.

“The nationwide federal appropriation has nothing in common with the $10 million the House is contemplating for vouchers only, or with extra money for charter and transformation schools that the Mayor and Council Member Chavous have requested,” she said in the statement.

“Today, the President made no attempt to obscure the purpose of his visit — to support money for D.C. vouchers and for D.C. vouchers only.”

Mrs. Norton said the voucher program — a plan that will look to use the District’s numerous Catholic and other parochial schools as alternatives to public and charter schools — is a “violation of the First Amendment separation of church and state” and cannot stand up to constitutional scrutiny.

She said these schools will not and cannot be held to any accountability standards by the federal government or the District.

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