Vouchers, One Year Later

Following last summer's Supreme Court finding that it's constitutional to give children taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools, the battle has moved to the legislative stage.

Voucher supporters won a victory in Colorado, where lawmakers approved a plan to give vouchers to low-income students with poor academic records in 15 districts. The state joins Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio, which have expanded their programs. Attempts to launch voucher programs in Arizona, Louisiana, and Texas, however, went down to defeat.

At present the debate has returned to the federal government in its role as "statehouse" for the District of Columbia. President Bush has proposed a $15 million "scholarship" program for D.C. students from low-income families. That's $7,500 each for about 2,000 students.

The House passed a version of the plan. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) and the Board of Education president, as well as The Washington Post think it's time to give vouchers a try, if only because the district's public schools have so abysmally failed poor children. So it surprised many when Senate Democrats announced they'll filibuster the D.C. budget bill until the voucher provision is removed.

This is odd behavior from people who would ordinarily defend the district's "home rule." A group of Democratic senators is ignoring what Democrat local officials believe is the best approach to digging D.C.'s schools out of the morass they're in.

School vouchers by themselves will not solve the problems in so many American classrooms. Much more work to improve teaching and curriculum is needed. Most of all, parents need to be more involved in their children's education.

But a D.C. voucher program with strict monitoring of student progress could be useful in prodding moribund schools and a recalcitrant teachers' union.

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