Budget Deal Hurts D.C., Signals Debates to ComeApril 14, 2011
While a last-minute agreement between President Barack Obama and House Republicans kept the federal government from shutting down on April 8, the final deal contained many nasty surprises for Washington, D.C. Despite having home rule and the ability to make its own budget and laws, D.C. is still subject to the whims of the U.S. Congress, which can overturn D.C.’s laws at any time. And that’s just what happened during the budget negotiations — Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) struck a deal that brings back a school voucher program and reinstates the ban on D.C. using its own taxpayer money to provide abortions for low-income women. Both deals are very disturbing and illustrate upcoming national debates about these issues.
First on the plate was the voucher program. Despite opposition from D.C.’s mayor, city council, and school superintendent, the deal allows Congress to reauthorize the failed private school voucher pilot program. This would allow new students into the program, increase the number of students receiving vouchers, and increase the voucher amount given for each student. AAUW has opposed this program for years — it funnels taxpayer money to private schools that do not have to follow civil rights laws such as Title IX, and it doesn’t actually work. A 2007 government report found several problems with the voucher program, including financial irregularities and classes led by teachers who don’t hold bachelor’s degrees. A later report found no statistical difference between the educational achievement of children who received vouchers and those who didn’t. Despite these shortcomings, Boehner demanded the program be brought back to life, and the Obama administration agreed. This is troubling, as this is likely the first step in the campaign to make vouchers available nationally despite the harm they will do to America’s public schools.
The other budget deal struck down D.C.’s ability to use its own taxpayer money to fund abortions for low-income women. Although the administration and Senate Democrats managed to defend Title X family-planning funds against House Republican attacks, they were not successful in defending D.C.’s rights. Obama was quoted as saying “John, I will give you D.C. abortion, but I am not happy about it,” after striking the deal. The president’s unhappiness was of little comfort to D.C.’s officials, many of whom were arrested while protesting the deal.
Although AAUW was pleased by the president’s defense of Title X family-planning program, we were disappointed by the administration’s sacrifice of D.C.’s ability to provide this important service to vulnerable women. AAUW supports the right of every woman to safe, accessible, affordable, and comprehensive family-planning and reproductive-health services, and we will fight to protect this right for women across the country.