- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

D.C. Council members are being pressured by President Bush and conservative members of Congress to support a federal voucher program for District students to attend private schools, council member Adrian M. Fenty said yesterday.

“They’ve really used their leverage over our budget over us,” said Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat.

He said more council members would oppose the proposal if they were not feeling that pressure.

Mr. Fenty planned to introduce a resolution yesterday stating that the D.C. Council opposes vouchers, but it was pulled from the agenda after an informal vote showed a lack of support. He said no such resolution will pass this year.

The only others on the 13-member council who support the resolution are council member Phil Mendelson and council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, both at-large Democrats,

However, council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, has said he will withdraw his support of the program until Mr. Bush provides more money for D.C. public and charter schools.

In a letter to Mr. Bush, Mr. Chavous stated that he was displeased that the president touted his voucher-scholarship program last week while visiting a Southeast charter school but did not promise an additional $30 million in federal money to keep D.C. public schools operating properly.

The voucher program for the District was introduced in Congress last month by 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.

Their Parental Choice and Incentive Act of 2003 would give children of low-income families scholarships of as much as $7,500 to attend private institutions in the District.

The $75 million nationwide school-choice program includes $15 million for the District. The president said about 2,000 of the city’s 67,000 public school students would benefit from the bill and that he is asking Congress for $320 million more for charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated.

Mr. Fenty’s action came yesterday as Mayor Anthony A. Williams was accepting an award from the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Civic Innovation for his support of school choice.

During the event, Mr. Williams said he thought about vouchers for years and has decided that the city should try the program because the students need help immediately.

“One of the things I’ve found is there is so much information, so much literature on school choice,” Mr. Williams said. “At the very least, we should experiment with choice in the city. If people are afraid to at least experiment, that tells me there is some self-interest in this motive.”

He also said vouchers could strengthen the community because they would form a stronger middle class in a city that has gaping disparities between the affluent and the poor.

Mr. Fenty said Mr. Williams is not appropriately representing District residents by supporting vouchers.

“He should get the point,” Mr. Fenty said. “He’s on the wrong side. He’s in bed with the president, who received about 5 percent of the vote in the District.”

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