WASHINGTON - Delivering his last radio address, House Speaker John Boehner on Saturday promoted school vouchers for students in the District of Columbia.
A graduate of Catholic schools, Boehner has long championed a program to give federal funds to District students to use at private and parochial schools. In one of his final acts as speaker, Boehner introduced legislation that would extend the program for another five years and increase its funding to $20 million annually. The House passed the bill Wednesday; its fate is uncertain in the Senate.
"It is the only program in America where the federal government allows low-income families to choose the schools that are best for their kids,'' Boehner said in the weekly Republican radio address.
He has spoken about how difficult it was for his parents to pay tuition while he was growing up. On the House floor, he said the issue was personal for him. He argued that the vouchers have given thousands of children a path out of poverty and failing schools.
"The program has truly made a difference,'' Boehner said in the radio address. "All told, some 6,100 students have gone to better schools using these scholarships. Last spring, 90 percent of 12th-graders in the program graduated. That's much higher than the city's average graduation rate.''
The White House opposes the program, arguing that the money should be spent on public schools instead of "a handful of students.''
Many Democratic local leaders see the vouchers as an intrusion on home rule in the nation's capital, noting that Congress has been unable to enact a national voucher program. However, Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser, herself a veteran of Catholic schools, has historically supported the program.
Boehner steps down Friday as speaker. He announced his resignation last month after hard-line Republicans threatened to oust him from the post.