Don’t stop the presses: DC school voucher bill passes House. Again.

This is one of those recurring stories that writes itself: the House of Representatives has revived the District of Columbia “Opportunity Scholarships Program” – read here “school vouchers” – and the Orthodox Union is happy, the Reform movement unhappy.

The program was mostly shut down in 2009, but getting it back on track was a priority for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

But getting it through the Democratic Senate won’t be easy, and President Obama is opposed.

So what did the Jewish groups say?  Nothing unexpected, that’s for sure.

Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that the voucher program’s possible revival is “alarming both from the standpoint of our nation’s long commitment to separation of church and state and to public education. Repeated studies have also shown that they fail to improve academic performance for those students who participate in the program.” (Read the Reform position here.)

The Orthodox Union’s Nathan Diament, in a statement before passage, said that his group “We are pleased at this legislation, introduced by Speaker Boehner and Senator Lieberman which puts the needs of children & families first to ensure every child has the best education. In these difficult economic times, it is increasingly harder for parents to afford the school that will best educate their children. Government programs which assist parents in doing so promote the socially just goal of affording equal educational opportunity for all.”

The DC program is especially important to both sides in the fight because it’s the only voucher program that gets federal money.

What I’m wondering: how has the grim economic climate and the budget-cutting mood seizing Washington affecting this apparently endless debate this time around?

You can bet that education funding will take a big hit when Congress and the Obama administration finally work out a spending agreement for the current fiscal year and a budget for the next.

Will that strengthen the Reform movement’s argument that it’s wrong to divert money from already-strapped public schools to help parents who opt to send their children to private and religious ones?

Or will it strengthen the OU’s argument that parents who make such a choice need help even more in these perilous economic times?


About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.