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New school voucher plan included in likely-to-pass
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U.S. budget bill.
JAMES D. BESSER
chool voucher supporters are
planning their next moves even
as the Senate tries to work out
the last glitches in a gigantic
omnibus appropriations measure con-
taining a $13 million pilot voucher pro-
gram for the District of Columbia.
Only a few weeks ago the plan, which
critics say will drain money from public
education but supporters insist will offer
positive choices for parents with children
in dysfunctional schools, had been pulled
from the D.C. appropriations bill
because of the threat of a Democrat fili-
But it was resurrected when a grid-
locked Congress had to resort to a catch-
all spending bill incorporating seven
unpassed appropriations bills dealing
with domestic spending.
The Democrats are
reluctant to filibuster a
spending bill needed to
keep vital programs run-
ning; this week, the bill's
last hurdles involved. pro-
visions easing reporting
requirements for gun
purchases, not vouchers.
Jewish pro-voucher groups, primarily
in the Orthodox community, say final
passage will be just the first step in a
much wider acceptance of vouchers and
other plans for aiding parochial school
parents; Jewish opponents fear the same
"It's very disappointing that a bill that
can't pass the Senate on its own power is
now going to be foisted on us by inclu-
sion in the omnibus bill," said Richard
Foltin, legislative director for the
American Jewish Committee, which
opposes voucher plans. "We and others
urged a 'no' vote on the D.C. appropria-
tions bill if it included vouchers; but that
becomes much more difficult when
you're dealing with a large portion of the
But Nathan Diarnent, the Orthodox
Union's -Washington representative, said
the strategy of putting the controversial
voucher plan in the omnibus was a smart
one. "It's clear that no matter how some
want to kill it, they will not be able to
mount a successful filibuster of an
omnibus," he said.
With the 2002 Supreme Court ruling
affirming the constitutionality of
Cleveland's voucher program, passage of
D.C. vouchers — by whatever means —
could be a major step toward expanding
voucher programs nationally. The next
steps: "To incorporate the voucher
approach in other, specialized federal
programs such as remedial education and
special education," said Abba Cohen,
Washington director for Agudath Israel
'Also, to explore other methods of
school choice to complement vouchers,
such as 'education scholarship organiza-
tions' that provide tax benefits to individ-
ual and corporate contributors to entities
that provide funding for both public and
private school children."
Cohen said final approval of the meas-
ure will give momentum to efforts in
many states to pass their own voucher
Jewish groups reacted predictably to last
week's Massachusetts Supreme Court rul-
ing that the state can't outlaw gay unions.
But there was a surprising undertone;
many Jewish activists say it would be a
mistake for the community to get
involved in a partisan free-for-all that will
distract the nation from more pressing
issues. "It's going to play out huge in the
election," said an official
with a major Jewish
"It's going to be all-out
partisan warfare. And it's
g oing to be a big distrac-
tion from the things we
should be talking about,
like the war on terror and Bauer
the debate over tax and
The Massachusetts decision energized
conservatives who want to pass a consti-
tutional amendment banning same-sex
marriages — something many say is nec-
essary to prevent further setbacks to their
cause in the courts.
The Orthodox Union and Agudath
Israel of America agree. The two groups
submitted a brief in the Massachusetts
case opposing same-sex marriage, and
both will support the accelerating effort
to pass a constitutional amendment
defining marriage, although the OU has