The House signed off Wednesday on reviving a school voucher program for low-income students in the District of Columbia.
The House voted 225-195 Wednesday afternoon to allocate $20 million to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships Program, which stopped accepting new students in 2009. The bill will open the program to new applicants.
The experimental program is close to House Speaker John Boehner’s heart, since he hammered out an agreement with Democrats to pass it eight years ago. In 2009, however, Democrats allowed the program’s funding to lapse. Students who were already getting vouchers continue to receive them, but new students couldn’t apply.
Boehner choked up during brief comments on the House floor urging lawmakers to vote for the measure on Wednesday afternoon, pausing twice to collect himself.
“I think all of you know this issue is important to me. I’ll tell you this: this is not about me,” he said. “Instead of just throwing money at the problem, let’s empower children from lower income families to choose the school that’s right for them.”
His clear attachment to the bill didn’t assuage Democrats. New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner accused Republicans of violating their own goal to offset all spending increases by passing the bill, while California Democratic Rep. George Miller got cheers and applause from Democrats when he said no study has shown that the private school vouchers improve student achievement.
While some Democrats, like former Washington, D.C. mayors Anthony Williams and Marion Barry, as well as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Vt.), say the program is effective, most argue the money would be better spent on the public school system.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he’s “strongly opposed” to the measure, but stopped short of promising to veto it. He may consider the legislation as part of a larger compromise on budget policy.
It’s unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will bring up the bill as a standalone measure.