Still, he believes there is actually more bipartisan support in the upper chamber. “Senator Lieberman and his staff have been working on this for several years,” he says. “Last year, the original co-sponsors of his bill included Dianne Feinstein and then-senator [Robert] Byrd. When it was voted on, it attracted the support of senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Bill Nelson of Florida. And we’re hopeful that Senator Manchin will be a supporter.”
Indeed, Lieberman lends strong support to the measure. In a statement to NRO, Lieberman says the voucher program “is not a Democratic, Republican, or independent program — it is not a liberal or conservative program — it is a program that puts children first. The Opportunity Scholarship Program works as evidenced by increased graduation rates, higher reading proficiency, and the overwhelming support of district families.” As a result, he is “optimistic that we can pass it this year.”
Lipinski agrees. “I see the SOAR Act — which also authorizes additional funding for D.C. public and private charter schools — as being very much in line with core Democratic-party goals and principles of fairness, which is why it already enjoys Democratic sponsorship,” he says in a statement to NRO. “I think we can all agree that a child shouldn’t have to attend schools that fail to meet reasonable standards just because she lives in a low-income neighborhood.”
Burke finds Feinstein’s sponsorship particularly encouraging. “One of [Feinstein’s] early concerns was whether or not the program had local support,” Burke says. “Seven out of thirteen members of the D.C. City Council are in favor of it. We know from polling that’s been done that seven out of ten people want to see it continued. There are all these indications of local support.”
But not of unanimity. D.C.’s delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.), vehemently opposes the program. She argues that the district’s local government has chosen charter schools as its form of school choice and that her constituents resent outside interference. “If they’re for vouchers, pass a national vouchers bill, don’t pass a bill picking on [us],” she tells NRO. “We resent being someone’s petri dish.”
In the end, however, Gowdy thinks Republicans have the most persuasive argument — one that might persuade enough Democrats to cross party lines. “What possible opposition could exist to a program that has demonstrable results and widespread support among participants, and doesn’t hurt the other sectors of education?” he asks. “I will let those who are opposed to it come and make their case.”
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.