D.C. voucher program should have smooth sailing in the Senate

Renewal of the federally-funded Washington, D.C., school voucher program seems set to cruise through the Senate without much opposition. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hosted a hearing Wednesday on the program, with bipartisan support for its extension.

Only five members of the 16-member committee attended. Two members called for improvements to the program but did not oppose it outright: They are ranking member Thomas Carper, D-Del., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. The committee did not take a vote on the bill, but passage is likely with a Republican majority and bipartisan support.

Two liberals expressed support for the program at Wednesday's hearing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., testified in favor of the bill even though she's not a member of the committee. "Should someone who doesn't have the money for a parochial or private school be denied that opportunity?" Feinstein said. "That's where this scholarship opportunity program comes in, because it clearly says no. We believe in competition, we want to open the door to competition, and an amount will be provided to make this opportunity real."

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a member of the committee, called for an expansion of the program, arguing that students should receive more money per scholarship. "We call this a choice program, but it doesn't seem like the kids with only $12,500 get all that much choice," Booker said. "There are a lot of schools that might be participating in the program if that was closer to what the [D.C. public schools] per pupil expenditure was of about $28.4 [thousand]."

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