- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday defended his support for the Bush administration’s voucher program, saying it would benefit 5,000 to 6,000 students.Speaking on WTOP Radio’s “Ask the Mayor” program, Mr. Williams said that losing thousands of students could force some schools to close, but that vouchers could create competition and strengthen public schools as a whole.Closing underperforming schools would be a good thing, Mr. Williams said, but he didn’t elaborate on which schools might be forced to close.The push for vouchers in the District began in earnest in February after President Bush made $75 million available for voucher programs nationwide. The program would give parents public money to send their children to private schools. Secretary of Education Rod Paige proposed a voucher program for the District that would force underperforming public schools to improve by competing with private and charter schools.”Secretary Paige believes that school choice is an essential part of authentic school reform,” said Dan Langan, Mr. Paige’s spokesman.Insiders said Mr. Williams has been saying behind closed doors for the past two months that the city will accept vouchers. “I fully and strongly support [President Bushs] initiative to bring scholarships to this city,” Mr. Williams said last week in announcing his support for a school vouchers program.District officials have said that the city is looking for more money for Medicaid and special-education costs in exchange for accepting vouchers. The mayor has drawn sharp criticism from some fellow Democrats for his stance on vouchers.”This very day the mayor and the city council are cutting funds for the very schools that qualify for federal funds — charter schools and transformation schools,” D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said yesterday afternoon at a rally by opponents of vouchers. Protesters in front of the Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW carried signs that read “D.C. Vouchers Leave Children Behind” and “Invest in Public Schools.”“It is inexcusable for them to cut money from these schools,” Mrs. Norton told the more than 100 teachers, parents and children’s advocates whose rallying cry yesterday was “Public funds for public schools.”Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat and member of the council’s education committee, called Mr. Bush’s plan to make vouchers available in the city a “direct affront to home rule.”He said vouchers don’t work in the District. Mrs. Norton has said that Mr. Williams’ support of vouchers shows he’s not committed to self-government for the District.One parent of a student in a D.C. transformation school said she knows what’s best for her child.Iris Toyer said she doesn’t need outsiders to tell her to use vouchers for private school.Wanda Gaddis, a single mother who lives in Northwest and has a child in Raymond Elementary School on Spring Road, said: “I believe in D.C. public schools. If we invest in children it would make the schools a better place. Vouchers are no good. Parents still have to put money with vouchers, and who gets left behind? Single parents with children.”D.C. school board member William Lockridge said at the rally that charter schools encourage choice more than vouchers do.School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz and D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, have joined the mayor in reversing their opposition to vouchers. “I have said from he beginning that I would support vouchers if we get more money from the federal government for our public and charter schools and special education,” said Mr. Chavous, chairman of the council’s Committee on Education, Public Libraries and Recreation.The Washington Times reported in February that Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, had introduced a bill that would set up a private, independent D.C. scholarship corporation to disburse the vouchers. Under Mr. Flake’s plan, D.C. children whose parents live below the poverty line would be eligible for scholarships of as much as $5,000. Those in households earning salaries up to 185 percent of the poverty level could receive $3,750. All other children would be eligible for $800 enhanced-achievement scholarships. Congress would fund the voucher program at $7 million in fiscal 2004, $8 million in fiscal 2005 and then $10 million each fiscal year through 2008.• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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