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Duncan: Administration's Position Hasn't Changed on D.C. Vouchers

By Sean Cavanagh

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan released a statement Tuesday reiterating that there has been "absolutely no change in policy" from the Obama administation on the District of Columbia's private-school voucher program—meaning the president does not favor expanding the program.

Why bother issuing the statement?

Because a day earlier, House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent, put out a press release saying they had struck a deal with the administration to "fully implement" the contoversial school-choice program, with no cap on enrollment.

The release unleashed a flood of news reports—and celebratory statements from pro-voucher groups—some of which suggested that President Barack Obama was backing away from his stance on the District's private-school choice program. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program currently receives about $20 million in federal funds. Obama has called for zeroing out its funding for fiscal 2013, arguing that it has enough money to serve students who are currently enrolled and make some new awards.

Later that same day, however, the U.S. Department of Education disputed the federal lawmakers' account, saying the only agreement in place was to allow for a smattering of new students—85 of them—to join the program, so that it could could continue to be studied in a scientifically valid way. That change would boost the voucher program's enrollment to roughly 1,700 students, from 1,615. The department says it does not support any kind of broader expansion.

But that position was largely lost in the media churn, Duncan said in a statement released Tuesday.

"Yesterday, some stories left a misleading impression that the Obama administration changed our position on vouchers," he said. "That's not true. As we said yesterday, our focus is on making sure all students get a world-class education. The best way to do that is by reforming our public school system. Despite the agreement to allow a modest increase in the number of students admitted to the D.C. voucher program next year to comply with a congressionally-mandated study, there has been absolutely no change in policy."

Obama opposes private school vouchers, a position that contrasts with his Republican challenger for the White House in this fall's election, Mitt Romney. Romney has called for a major expansion of federal funding for vouchers, and has criticized the president for not supporting the D.C. voucher model, specifically, saying it should serve as "a model for the nation."

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