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Democrat Omnibus Spending Bill Puts D.C. School Choice in Jeopardy

4:48 PM, Feb 24, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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If you add up the stimulus bill, Obama's proposed foreclosure fix, and the omnibus spending bill House Democrats are preparing, the administration is kicking off its tenure by spending a whopping $1.4 trillion.

There's money for green golf carts. There's money for ACORN. There's money for weatherizing galore!

But there are some things the Democrat-controlled Congress will not countenance spending money on. Namely, Sakeithia, 12, Rashawn, 16, Paul, 11, Dominique, 14, Breanna, 9, Jordan, 17, Fransoir, 12, and De'Andre, 9.

They're all Washington, D.C. kids attending private schools thanks in part to a federally funded school-voucher program. The program was enacted five years ago after a heated battle in the Senate, and supporters say it's unlikely it will be reauthorized by the Democratic Congress unless they're lobbied something fierce.

The fiscal 2009 omnibus Appropriations bill (HR 1105) would require that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program - known as the D.C. voucher program - be reauthorized by Congress and then approved by the D.C. government in order for the program to receive federal funding after the 2009-2010 academic year.

But Republicans and advocates say the program is unlikely to be reauthorized with Democrats controlling Congress.

"It would certainly be a steep hill for supporters of the program to climb given the slim margins this program passed with back when conservatives controlled the Congress," said Dan Lips, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. The D.C. government may be more willing to support the program, he said.

The D.C. voucher program - the first to provide federally funded vouchers to students - was launched as a five-year pilot program through the 2004 omnibus appropriations law (PL 108-199).

Nancy Pelosi's office offered a "wait-and-see" soundbite on the program, but the language in the bill is more clear about its fate:

But the joint explanatory language accompanying the financial services portion of the omnibus legislation indicates that the program will likely be phased out. It directs Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the D.C. public schools, to take steps to ensure smooth transitions for students who need to enroll in public schools as a "result of any changes made to the private scholarship program."

Obama has yet to take a position on the issue, but several students of the Opportunity Scholarship program are trying to convince him to support them. It's not so easy to write them out of an enormous budget filled with buildings named after congressmen and other pedantic Pelosi creations once you hear from them: