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D.C. Councilmembers Oppose Boehner's Vouchers Bill

Boehner has been a strong proponent of the voucher program. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Eight members of the District of Columbia City Council expressed their opposition Thursday to Speaker John A. Boehner's bill to reauthorize a D.C. school voucher program.  

In a letter sent to House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the council members argued the program was ineffective and an affront to local governance. They said students in the program should be able to use them throughout high school, but the program should not be extended to new students. "It is insulting to our constituents, who vote for us but not any voting member of Congress, that some of your colleagues push their personal agendas on D.C. in a way they never do in their home state," the lawmakers wrote.  

The voucher program is a pet project for the outgoing speaker, who introduced a reauthorization bill Monday . Chaffetz, who is running to replace Boehner, also signed on to the bill and his committee is set to mark up the legislation Friday.  

At-large Councilmember David Grosso, who chairs the Council's Education Committee, was among the letter's signatories, along with Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who represents Capitol Hill.  

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson did not sign the letter.  

In their letter, the councilmembers said they supported phasing the program out several years ago, and pointed to two recent Government Accountability Office reports as evidence the programs were not effective. The lawmakers also echoed Democrats' views at a May Oversight hearing  that funds should be invested in the public education system.  

The councilmembers also pointed to another issue that has caused some tension between the D.C. Council and Congress: protecting people from discrimination based on reproductive health decisions. Republicans in Congress attempted to block the Council's Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act, arguing that the act violated religious liberty, but the effort ultimately failed, and the act became law.  

Private schools who accept students in the voucher program, the councilmembers pointed out, are exempted from such anti-discrimination laws.  

"We have serious concerns about using government funds to send our students to private schools that do not adhere to the same standards as do public and charter schools," they wrote.  

Grosso noted in a statement Thursday that this issue is one for local government to handle.  

"It is past time for Congress to stop treating D.C. as a petri dish for members' ideas," Grosso said, "and let the elected members of the D.C. Council and the Mayor do what D.C. residents voted for us to do  govern ourselves."  

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