- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 2, 2019

Congressional Democrats are trying to squeeze Republicans out of the negotiations over reauthorizing the only federal school voucher program in the nation, according to a letter two GOP congressmen have sent to the Education Department.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says Republicans were left out of a Democrat-led request of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to compile information on Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR), a $45 million voucher program for D.C. students to attend private schools.

“They initiated this inquiry without consulting Republican members of the Committee,” reads the letter, signed by Mr. Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina.

A senior Democratic committee aide told The Washington Times that the committee’s chairman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, prefers bipartisanship, but Mr. Jordan has “often opposed legitimate oversight.”

Last Wednesday, Mr. Cummings; Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee; and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton sent a letter to Mrs. DeVos requesting information about SOAR, including whether the participating private schools complied with civil rights laws and had tested their drinking water.

“[W]e are seeking to better understand whether students participating in the D.C. voucher programs are afforded the same protections as public school students in Washington D.C., including federal civil rights laws and safety regulations,” the Democrats said in the letter.

A staffer at the Education Department said it has reviewed the request and a response is forthcoming.

The congressional letters underscore the politics behind a voucher program that in nearly 20 years has provided $200 million in tuition to 10,000 D.C. students.

Thursday’s GOP letter trumpeted the program’s bipartisan support from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, the majority of the D.C. Council and Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Cory A. Booker.

“We look forward to working with you and the Trump administration to reauthorize this vital program,” Mr. Jordan and Mr. Meadows said.

SOAR is authorized through Sept. 30, and the Trump administration’s fiscal 2020 budget requests doubling its funding to $90 million.

Democrats are wary of expanding vouchers, which many teachers unions oppose. In congressional hearings in 2017, Republicans blocked Democratic amendments that would have established protections for LGBTQ students and those with disabilities.

Many private schools participating in the voucher program are religious and are exempt from the District’s non-discrimination protection for LGBTQ employees and students. Critics charge that private schools aren’t required to provide the same level of accommodation for students under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Republicans counter that the program boosts graduation rates and parental satisfaction in safety surveys. A recent study showed 12% greater likelihood of students on vouchers to graduate than other students. SOAR students also avoid chronic absenteeism more than public school students in the District.

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