- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New GOP House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday formally endorsed a new bill to revive and enlarge the District of Columbia’s school voucher program, increase the amount of individual scholarships, mandate a rigorous evaluation of the program and incorporate several changes requested by Democrats.

Mr. Boehner, appearing with Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman to outline the new bill, has been a strong proponent of the voucher program that was allowed to wither away under the previous, Democratic-dominate Congress. The new bill incorporates several Democratic proposals, including a requirement that teachers in private schools receiving vouchers who teach core subject material have a baccalaureate degree or its equivalent.

In addition to Mr. Boehner and Mr. Lieberman, the “Scholarships for Opportunity and Results” (SOAR) Act has four co-sponsors in each chamber.

“In his State of the Union message last night, President Obama spoke of the vital role education plays in making our nation competitive,” Mr. Boehner said. “We need to start by making America’s education system itself more competitive. There’s only one program in America where the federal government allows parents from lower-income families to choose the schools that are best for their children, and it’s right here in D.C.”

The Ohio Republican said the D.C. voucher plan “provides a model that I believe can work well in other communities around the nation — it should be expanded, not ended. If we’re serious about bipartisan education reform, then this bipartisan education bill should be the starting point.”

The legislation would reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides and estimated 700 poor children with vouchers to attend a private school of their parents’ choosing. The Obama administration and Congress began defunding the program in 2009 and would not allow any new students to participate. At the time, about 1,700 students were taking part.

Under the current plan, students can receive a voucher up to $7,500. The new SOAR Act proposes increases to the scholarships, offering students attending elementary school a scholarship of up to $8,000 per year and students attending high school a scholarship up to $12,000 per year.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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