Boehner chokes up defending DC school voucher program

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday choked back tears defending his proposal to reinstate the District of Columbia's school voucher program.

Boehner said parents and students value the program, which was cut in 2009, because "they know what it was like before."

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"They remember living just blocks from grade schools but feeling miles away from them," he said, as his emotions seemed to build. "And all they did was ask us to have a chance to have the same kind of education that kids down the street were getting. There's no controversial idea here. It's the American way."

Boehner is the lead sponsor on legislation to resume the voucher program, H.R. 471. But he said that, while he is glad to support it, he had "nothing to do with its success."

"For that we can thank the students and parents who have become more than the program's beneficiaries — they are its greatest ambassadors," he said.

Democrats said they oppose the bill because DC public schools should be improved, rather than allowing just some students to receive vouchers for charter or private schools. Several also argued that there is no sign that the voucher program increased the quality of education in Washington, and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) argued that Boehner's bill would "impose" an educational system on Washington, D.C. schools.

"If you want to help us, have the courtesy, have the good grace to ask us how we want to be helped," she said.

Republicans generally rejected these arguments by pointing out that when it was in effect, hundreds of parents were eager to participate in the program. They also said D.C. public schools remain funded, and are not worse off because of the existence of the voucher program.

The bill is up for a vote today.