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Attrition & subtraction

"Attrition & subtraction" Continued...

Issue: "The Haiti quake," Feb. 13, 2010

Local political leaders also are impediments: Vincent Gray, chairman of the D.C. council, doesn't support the program and he "sets the agenda," according to former D.C. council member and voucher supporter Kevin Chavous. D.C. congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton's longstanding opposition to vouchers also hamstrings efforts to keep it funded-she lobbies members of Congress against increased funding. Democrats also fear going against another opponent of vouchers, President Barack Obama: "I'm frustrated particularly as an African-American that this president hasn't jumped to help us," said Virginia Walden Ford, director of D.C. Parents for School Choice.

But with the program's obvious decline, Chavous said, "Democrats are coming to me out of the closet. We've unearthed support we didn't even know we had."

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the 216 students who were accepted into the program last year-but lost their scholarships because the Department of Education cut funding to new students­-now are back in public or charter schools. Chancellor Michelle Rhee has overseen a recent surge in math scores in part by closing schools, firing teachers, extending school days, and leaning heavily on charter schools and the independent environment they provide (including less influence from teachers unions). Rhee's initial support for the voucher program was tepid, but she has said more recently that while the program is not a solution to all of education's ills, it "continues to make sense" and forms part of the "choice dynamic." Testifying before a Senate committee last summer, she underlined that "the tri-sector approach"-vouchers, public, and charter schools-"needs to be maintained and continued into the future." While the majority of the liberal city council have expressed support for the opening of the program to new students, voucher advocates say they want to keep the focus trained on the federal government's role in shutting down a successful program. They also worry that if federal voucher funding disappears in Washington, Congress will begin to siphon off other streams of funding for education in the federal dollars'-dependent district-like charter schools.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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