- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Opponents of the D.C. school-voucher program said yesterday they will combine efforts to kill the initiative in the Senate.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and other opponents “will use all the tools available to them to try to defeat this legislation on the Senate floor,” said James Manley, spokesman for the ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The National Education Association attacked House Republican leaders for extending voting time to pass the $10 million voucher program on a 209-208 vote Tuesday evening. The leaders “allow[ed] the clock to keep ticking on the vote in order to contrive the passage of a voucher scheme requiring an investment of scarce dollars that our children and public education cannot afford,” said Reg Weaver, president of the teachers union.

Lobbyists for other liberal political action groups are marshaling forces.

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, said they suffered a setback Sept. 4 when the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16-12 to approve its version of the initiative.

“I do not believe this voucher proposal will become law,” Mr. Neas said.

Yesterday, the Anti-Defamation League also issued a statement opposing the initiative.

“Vouchers are a bad choice for those who care about public education,” ADL’s David C. Friedman and Chris Wolf said.

Echoing the NEA’s position, they said federal money “would be better spent on genuine education-reform efforts — smaller class size or better facilities — for the vast majority of the students in the District of Columbia will remain in public schools.”

Conservative supporters expressed indignation that Mr. Kennedy might try to filibuster the D.C. funding bill in order to block the voucher program.

“It just seems irresponsible,” said Krista Kafer, education-policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation. “This is a tiny program in a huge bill, and he’s going to hold it up?”

But Kennedy spokesman Mr. Manley said it was too early to say whether the filibuster would be used.

“The first will be an attempt to strike the language” from the legislation, he said. “Democrats haven’t set a strategy yet. No decision has been made how we’re going to approach this [if the Senate voted to keep the language.] A strategy will evolve.”

He added that Mr. Kennedy and other Senate Democrats are committed to blocking the $13 million Senate initiative.

“Senators are concerned about diverting scarce federal resources to private schools when they are needed in public schools,” the spokesman said.

Despite vehement opposition by D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, the House passed the $10 million, five-year program to enable roughly 2,000 D.C. families to take their children out of failing public schools and send them to private schools.

All but 15 House Republicans voted for the program, which would be the first federally funded voucher initiative in history. All but three House Democrats opposed the measure.

The voucher plan is backed by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and city Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, as well as by Education Secretary Rod Paige.

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