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Committee to Consider D.C. School Voucher Measure

Boehner has championed the D.C. school voucher program. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Republicans will work to to cement a part of Speaker John A. Boehner's legacy next week by taking up a measure aimed at reauthorizing one of his pet projects.  

Oversight and Government Reform Committee members were notified Friday that their panel would be marking up a measure that would involve a five-year reauthorization of the D.C. school voucher program on Oct. 7, one day before House GOP leadership elections. Funding for the District of Columbia school voucher program, known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, is due for reauthorization, and the Ohio Republican has championed the program for several years. He worked with former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., to restore the program in 2011 through the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results, or SOAR Act.  

Boehner has taken a particular interest in D.C. schools, discussing the program in his first meeting with Mayor Muriel Bowser after she was elected in November and hosting 10 students from D.C. Catholic schools on the West Front for Pope Francis' address on Sept. 24.  

The program can provide D.C. students with up to $8,381 through 8th grade and up to $12,572 through high school to attend a private school. The program has also prompted a federal funding conflict , as President Barack Obama sought to wind down the program in his fiscal 2016 budget.  

Proponents of the program have been working to reauthorize it before Boehner leaves office. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who testified at a House Oversight hearing on the program in May , told CQ Roll Call this week he was talking to relevant senators about introducing a reauthorization measure.  

“I think it affects the timeline a little bit," Scott said Thursday when asked how Boehner's exit affected the program. "So we’re trying to get some things accomplished beforehand, before he leaves. I think it’s an important part of our way of saying 'thank you' for his strong leadership on the topic and I’m hopeful that we’re able to put the pieces of the puzzle together and be successful.”  

“He essentially single-handedly made it happen years ago and has been the real champion of it, not the sole champion, but the real champion of it for years," Scott later added. "When I arrived in 2010, I joined the bandwagon and felt like this was a wonderful opportunity for us to see progress happen."  

But the May hearing at a Catholic school in northeast D.C. also highlighted partisan divisions over the program. While Republicans argued the program has been successful, Democrats, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., argued money would be better spent on D.C. public schools, which have improved significantly in recent years.  

Norton also accused Republicans of imposing the program on the District because Congress has the power to do so, while failing to make it a national program. Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who has speakership ambitions of his own , responded by arguing the program can be applied to D.C. because it is not a state.  

Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., told CQ Roll Call Tuesday he was not sure how Boehner's departure would affect the voucher program. But, he noted, "I'm still against it."  

“It’s hard to say what they’re going to do," Cummings said. "It probably loses a little bit of it’s — I mean you got a speaker pushing for something — that’s big. And he was a driving force. So it’s hard to tell.”  

It appears lawmakers are moving ahead with a five-year reauthorization, though the exact details of that plan are unknown, since there has so far been no bill introduced. Boehner's office and a spokesperson for the House Oversight committee did not return a request for comment.  

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