Veto Puts Clinton At Odds With DC Residents

Published June 1, 1998

A few days after President Clinton vetoed a pilot program to provide tuition vouchers to 2,000 poor children in Washington, DC, a new Washington Post poll showed that most District residents favor the idea of using vouchers to help low-income families send their children to private or parochial schools.

Fifty-six percent of District residents responding to the poll favor vouchers, while 36 percent oppose them. While only 43 percent of white respondents favor vouchers, support among African Americans rises to 60 percent.

Their support for vouchers puts most District residents at odds with the President, who is a vocal supporter of public schools–though he sent his daughter to a private school. District residents are also at odds on the issue with their elected city leaders, like mayoral candidate and D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous–another voucher opponent/public school supporter who sends his children to private school.

“It was a battle between children and union bosses,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson, “and Bill Clinton sided with the union bosses. It’s a sad day for children trapped in schools that don’t teach and aren’t safe.”

The DC voucher bill, formally known as S. 1502, the “District of Columbia Student Opportunity Scholarship Act of 1998,” was approved by the U.S. Senate last year as an attachment to the District of Columbia appropriations bill. After House Speaker Dick Armey detached the voucher provision from the package, the measure was approved by the U.S. House in early May by a margin of eight votes.

The President lost little time in vetoing the bill on May 20, citing the need to “strengthen our public schools, not abandon them” and promoting his own proposals for smaller classes and higher standards. The President said the voucher program “would pay for a few selected students to attend private schools” and “would divert critical Federal resources to private schools instead of investing in fundamental improvements in public schools.”

Since the veto had been expected, voucher supporters were unbowed by the President’s action. Instead, they focused on what the legislation meant for the progress of the school choice movement.

“It’s a significant victory to get a school choice bill through both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate,” said choice advocate David Kirkpatrick. “Now it’s just a matter of getting a President who will sign it.”

The Washington Post poll, which surveyed 1,002 randomly selected D.C. residents between May 11 and May 17, has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].