Republicans have established cutting spending and fixing the economy their marquee issues since claiming the majority in the House of Representatives.
But Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, turned his attention to education issues in the District of Columbia.
Boehner is teaming with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to author a bill that would fund a voucher program for students in Washington, DC.
The program was crafted seven years ago to help poor students attend private schools in the nation's capital.Democrats allowed the program to expire. And it's no secret that Boehner would like to use Washington as a pilot for similar models around the country."This program has worked well," Boehner said. "I respectfully ask the president to take a look at this program."
But one Senator thinks Boehner and Lieberman need to look at the issue on a bigger scale.
"I think it would be a mistake to get tangled up in an issue that focuses on the District of Columbia. That may be a separate issue that needs to be addressed," said Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. "We're trying to pass a bill for the entire country and not get distracted by narrow programs that only apply to a certain area."Education emerged as a key theme during the State of the Union speech Tuesday night at the Capitol. President Obama led off his remarks by calling on the country to develop teachers and professors with expertise in math and science. He also discussed options to expand Pell Grants for college students.
In a not-so-subtle gesture to underscore his interest in the scholarship plan, Boehner opened up the Speaker's Box in the House chamber Tuesday to students who have benefitted from the scholarship program.
Many teachers unions don't like the program. And Washington Mayor Vincent Gray (D) is also opposed.Others are critical of Boehner and the GOP for meddling in "local" issues in Washington.
"This is a federal city," Boehner said, noting the special oversight Congress has over some local affairs in Washington. "The relationship between the federal government and the DC government has been a road that twisted many ways."
However, Boehner noted that the relationship was much less hostile than in years past as the District of Columbia has gained substantial autonomy from Capitol Hill.
Boehner went as far to describe the scholarship effort as a "civil rights program.
"Making the promise of education is on the frontlines of the civil rights movement," Boehner said.
Boehner has long been a key player in tailoring education policy. Before joining the House Republican leadership in 2006, Boehner chaired the House Education and Workforce Committee. He also wrote the No Child Left Behind law with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. President Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in Boehner's district in 2001.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan welcomes Boehner's new emphasis on education and the D.C. voucher program.
"We were supportive of keeping the students there in the current program. I am just really pleased that Speaker Boehner, like all of us, is increasingly focused on education. I think that's a very positive sign."