Senate action on the District’s funding bill stalled yesterday as some Democrats negotiated behind the scenes with Republicans on an amendment they hope will attract Democratic support for a $13 million school-voucher initiative for the city.
Democratic Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, bolting from party leaders who want to kill or filibuster the plan requested by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, made their offer to Republican leaders yesterday evening, aides said.
“Why set up a pilot program that doesn’t have accountability provisions that are the same as federal education standards we have for public schools?” said Bill Ghent, spokesman for Mr. Carper, a leading proponent of school choice when he was Delaware governor from 1993 to 2001.
The move by more-conservative Democrats from states with large Catholic populations that favor school choice and parochial schools was seen as a setback for liberal Democrats led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who want to kill the D.C. voucher initiative.
It would take 60 votes in the Senate to stop a filibuster, and voucher proponents believe that enough Senate Democrats will join Republicans to end a filibuster if Republican leaders accept the Landrieu-Carper amendment.
The key provision in the two Democrats’ proposal would require private schools to use the same tests to measure academic achievement as public schools do under the No Child Left Behind Act, if they enroll students from low-income families using federally funded vouchers.
David L. Brennan, an Ohio businessman who helped devise Cleveland’s pioneering voucher program for low-income families in 1996, said the same-test requirement for public and voucher schools would be reasonable as long as it was restricted to measuring reading and mathematics achievement, as the No Child Left Behind Act requires.
“With science and social studies, you’re getting into divisive political issues based on religious convictions of people, honestly held, that run against their beliefs,” Mr. Brennan said.
Mr. Brennan has advised D.C. Parents for School Choice, a leading advocate of the voucher initiative, and was in Washington yesterday.
The group has raised more than $20,000 for advertisements on Metro buses and in the Capitol South and Metro Center subway stations. The ads say: “Teacher unions putting politics ahead of our children, putting their own children in private schools. For shame. Congress, please pass D.C. school choice.”
“We’ve got to have some provision that would help the children,” said Virginia Walden-Ford, the group’s executive director. She said another pro-voucher group, American Education Reform Foundation, is airing pro-voucher television ads.
Other provisions of the Landrieu-Carper amendment would:
Require private schools accepting voucher students to have teachers with a college degree and “demonstrated competency in areas of basic school curriculum such as reading, writing and math” — the same requirement as charter schools.
Restrict scholarships to students attending “failing” schools, as defined by federal standards.
Require that private schools accept vouchers as full payment for tuition, even if their usual tuition is more than $7,500.
Require participating private schools to meet all antidiscrimination statutes required of private tutors and other education-service providers under the NCLB.