By Melissa Corley and Matt Walcoff
WASHINGTON – By a single vote, the House of Representatives late Thursday passed a Republican plan to allow some District students to attend suburban and private schools with government vouchers.
The 203-202 vote came just hours after Rep. Albert Wynn, D- Prince George’s, marched with other lawmakers and area activists from the Capitol to a local elementary school in opposition to the voucher plan.
“The District of Columbia is not a plantation to entertain the whims of certain members of Congress,” Wynn told House colleagues before the vote.
“Nor is it a laboratory” to experiment with the lives of children, he said.
Reps. Constance A. Morella, R-Montgomery, and Steny H. Hoyer, D-Prince George’s, also opposed the voucher plan, which was attached to the annual funding bill for the District of Columbia.
“People realize that D.C. schools aren’t schools you’d want to send kids to,” Hoyer said in an interview. “The problem is (the voucher plan) takes resources away from the system to help 2,000 (students). You will syphon off people into private schools, reducing support for the public education system.”
Reps. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kent, Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., R-Baltimore County, joined 200 other House Republicans to pass the measure.
The proposal calls for $45 million to be taken from D.C. public schools over the next five years and used to help send 3 percent of the city’s 78,500 students to private schools and public schools in Maryland and Virginia.
The Senate rejected the plan last week. Both measures now go to a joint House-Senate conference committee.
The White House has criticized the voucher plan, and both Hoyer and Wynn said they believe President Clinton will veto the funding bill if it includes the voucher proposal.
Wynn expressed concern that voucher programs might spread into Maryland and other areas of the country.
“I understand if they can do it to D.C. this year, next year they’ll do it to Prince George’s County,” Wynn told the marchers before the House vote.
The group marched from the steps of the Capitol to Brent Elementary School in Southeast, where legislators were greeted by students and Principal Lynn Long.
“We want more people to become aware of the seriousness of the issue of vouchers,” said Antone Meaux, a Congressional Black Caucus fellow in Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office.