News Articles

Clinton vetoes legislation providing D.C. vouchers

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Clinton vetoed a bill that would have provided educational vouchers for children in the District of Columbia, calling it “fundamentally misguided and a disservice to those children.”
The bill, the first voucher legislation ever sent to the White House, would have permitted 2,000 students from low-income families to receive vouchers of as much as $3,200 to pay for tuition at area private schools, including religious ones.
The president’s May 20 veto was expected. The voucher showdown basically pitted Democrats and teachers unions against Republicans and some education reformers. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives April 30 in a vote nearly along party lines. The U.S. Senate approved the legislation in a voice vote last year.
In a written statement explaining his veto, Clinton said the bill would “divert critical federal resources to private schools instead of investing in fundamental improvements in public schools.” The voucher program “would pay for a few selected students to attend private schools, with little or no public accountability for how those funds are used. … (The bill) would do nothing to improve public education in the District of Columbia,” the president said.
While some organizations, such as the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, cite church-state reasons for opposing vouchers, Clinton did not mention such concerns in his prepared veto message. The president asked Congress to approve his educational reform package, which focuses on such proposals as smaller classes, higher academic standards and greater public school choice.
Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson said the president “sided with the union bosses” instead of children. “Chelsea Clinton shouldn’t be the only kid from public housing to graduate from a private school,” Nicholson said in a written statement.
The president’s daughter attended a private high school in D.C. before going to Stanford University.
Among the vocal opponents of vouchers are the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers organization, and the American Federation of Teachers.
AFT President Sandra Feldman applauded the veto, saying in a written statement, “All D.C. children deserve a good education, and they can get it if our elected officials get their priorities straight. Let’s take that voucher money and use it to improve the schools for all.”
Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice, which is defending in the courts school-choice programs in six states, told Baptist Press, “It’s the height of hypocrisy for Bill Clinton to purport to care about inner-city education and to veto a bill” that would have provided educational opportunities for children in D.C.
“He is utterly the captive of the teachers unions, and it’s reprehensible,” Bolick said.
Widespread problems have plagued the D.C. school district for several years.
A day before the House vote, 1,002 low-income students were awarded scholarship grants from a private fund. More than 7,000 families applied for the scholarships.