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A School Voucher Surrender

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John Boehner would not have left the D.C. scholarships in limbo.

Wall Street Journal
Outlook & Review
December 17, 2015

Somebody owes John Boehner an apology. The former House Speaker was routinely attacked as a faux conservative who sold out the conservative agenda. Well, Mr. Boehner is gone and the agenda-setting has been left to Members and their committees. One embarrassing result is that the end-of-year omnibus spending bill puts a big question mark over a rare conservative education victory: the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The omnibus funds the program for fiscal year 2016 but fails to reauthorize it. This means that 20 years after the program was first debated, 10 years after it started, four years after Mr. Boehner revived it after President Obama had killed it, and a few months after the House passed a bill to reauthorize it, we’ll have to fight the battle all over again.

Worse, no one will explain how Nancy Pelosi prevailed despite Republican majorities in both houses. Speaker Paul Ryan’s office says, “It’s pretty simple. Democrats refused to accept a popular program to help low-income kids get a better education.” A spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee chaired by Hal Rogers, which helped negotiate the omnibus, says only that “as this was a compromise agreement, not all priorities could be retained.”

Perhaps this reflects the imbalance of passion. Democrats try to kill vouchers every year because unions demand it. Never mind that Opportunity Scholarship recipients have higher graduation rates and more parental satisfaction than D.C. public school students. Or that the children who get these scholarships are from households with an average household income below $21,000 a year.

Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform puts it this way: “Democrats oppose this program not because it is failing but because it is succeeding. They fear that as these choice programs succeed, poor and minority moms and dads are going to figure out the Democrats are selling their kids out to the teachers unions.” Now that Mr. Boehner is gone, there appears to be no comparable champion in the House GOP conference willing to fight for poor, minority children.

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