An April 21 inaugural event by the Educational Freedom Caucus and Coalition gave District of Columbia parents and leaders an opportunity to thank in person Members who had supported the DC voucher vote. Longtime school choice champion Clint Bolick was on hand to lend his perspective to the occasion and to discuss the formation of his new Phoenix-based choice organization, The School Choice Alliance. Also on hand was Vanessa DeCarbo, communications director for the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, with a delegation of leaders and parents from Hispanic CREO to discuss their work promoting choice and parental options around the country.
Educational Freedom Caucus founders Pete Hoekstra (R-Michigan) and Trent Franks (R-Arizona) led a group of 10 Congressmen who received awards for their leadership on behalf of DC choice. Other Members receiving awards were House Education Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Representatives Tom Feeney (R-Florida), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-New Jersey), DeMint, John Kline (R-Minnesota), Tom Petri (R-Wisconsin), Ed Schrock (R-Virginia), and Dave Weldon (R-Florida).
Federal Tax Credit Bill Introduced
Representative Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) introduced his National Education Advancement and Teacher Relief Act. The plan offers a 75 percent tax credit for teachers to offset classroom expenses they may incur, as well as a $500 individual tax credit for donations to schools or scholarship organizations ($1,000 for families). Corporations would also be eligible for credits of up to $100,000 for the same purpose.
DeMint was joined by Representatives Gresham Barrett (R-South Carolina), Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colorado), and Pete Hoekstra as original cosponsors of the plan.
Choice An Issue in Pennsylvania Race
Incumbent Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania)–who voted against the DC voucher program–nearly lost his April 27 primary battle against Pat Toomey, a Congressman who has distinguished himself as a school choice advocate. With more than 1 million votes cast, Specter beat Toomey by a mere 12,600 votes.
Choice advocate Virginia Walden Ford, president of DC Parents for School Choice, drew a clear distinction between the two at a March event in Philadelphia.
“Senator Specter said he was on our side, but when the time came to vote for us, he betrayed us and voted against us,” said Walden Ford, describing the year’s biggest Congressional school choice vote. “Congressman Toomey has been a fighter for us down in D.C. and he’ll be a fighter for the children and parents of Pennsylvania as well.”
Specter won the primary by a two-point margin and will face Democratic Representative Joe Hoeffel in November. President George W. Bush supported the 74-year old incumbent, whose opposition to several Bush administration priorities rankled many conservatives.
Mayor Williams Loses School Control Vote
Washington, DC Mayor Anthony A. Williams earned a national reputation as an education reformer for his unwavering support of a historic voucher program for the nation’s capital. But the mayor’s subsequent bid to take control of the District’s public school system was thwarted when the D.C. City Council rejected the plan in April.
By a vote of 9 to 4, the council vetoed a measure that would have given the mayor power to hire and fire the school superintendent and relegated the Board of Education to an advisory capacity.
The council then took the additional step of voting to return the school board to an all-elected body in 2006, which would then eliminate the mayor’s four appointees to the Board of Education. In an interview with the Washington Post, Councilman Jack Evans (D-Georgetown), who had supported the mayor’s plan, said schools “are probably the most emotional issue” in the District and a change in governance gets closer each year.
“On the council there is still not a majority of people who are willing to take a controversial position that would involve this dramatic change in the governing structure,” he said.
Williams’ decision to support the DC voucher program was instrumental in its passage, and leaders working to get the DC voucher program up and running before the 2004-2005 school year have had only positive things to say about the role he and his staff have played in helping to make that happen.
Don Soifer is executive vice president of the Lexington Institute. His email address is [email protected].