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Taking note . . .
Observations about public affairs in the nation's capital
by the editor of The Common Denominator

DEBUNKING THE BIG LIE: Chalk one up for the proponents of tax-supported school vouchers, who managed to talk at least U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein into accepting the erroneous claim that the District's elected officials are clamoring for Congress to impose another "school choice" experiment on D.C. residents.

D.C. City Council Chairman Linda Cropp, in a July 22 letter to Feinstein, thanked the California Democrat for showing "interest" in the District's public schools by submitting a recent op-ed article to The Washington Post ("Let D.C. Try Vouchers," July 22). But Cropp's letter, and three other letters circulated last week on Capitol Hill, clearly show that Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz are in the minority among the District's elected officials. Williams and Cafritz also are bucking the D.C. schools' two largest parent groups with their support for the president's voucher plan.

In the letters, a majority of the 13-member city council and four of the current eight members of the school board (including three of the five elected representatives) asked members of Congress to kill the voucher plan that the Republican leadership wants to attach to the District's fiscal 2004 budget. A joint letter from Iris Toyer, co-chairman of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, and Darlene Allen, president of the D.C. Congress of Parent and Teacher Associations, asked members of Congress to "cast a no vote for this and any other voucher bill."

In addition to Cropp, council members who seek to kill the D.C. voucher proposal include Carol Schwartz, R-At Large; Phil Mendelson, D-At Large; Jim Graham, D-Ward 1; Adrian Fenty, D-Ward 4; Vincent Orange, D-Ward 5; and Sandra Allen, D-Ward 8. Councilman Kevin Chavous, D-Ward 7, who chairs the council's education committee and did not attach his name to any of the letters, recently disavowed his support for the president's voucher plan because it does not include additional funding for the public schools. Elected school board members Dwight Singleton (District II), Tommy Wells (District III) and William Lockridge (District IV), as well as Mirian Saez, a mayoral appointee to the board, also asked Congress to kill the voucher plan.

he District's non-voting elected delegate to Congress, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, has long opposed school vouchers and applauded last week's hurried effort by D.C. officials to set the record straight on the decided majority of local elected officials who share her lack of support for the president's voucher plan.

ut Norton also lambasted her Hill colleagues, saying she is "disgusted to see Congress go home [on recess] ... with virtually all its appropriations completed except the District's."

The joint effort by Williams, Cafritz and Chavous to support vouchers must share some of the blame for derailing quick approval of the city's annual budget. The D.C. budget, which requires congressional approval, often gets held hostage on the Hill by partisan posturing over controversial national issues, and Norton called it "absolutely predictable that private school vouchers would sidetrack the appropriation" for the District this year. In a charitable slap at "D.C. officials supporting vouchers," Norton said they "underestimated the bipartisan controversy D.C. vouchers would cause."

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator