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School Choice and Educational Privatization Initiatives in the 106th and 107th Congresses: An Analysis of Policy Formation and Political Ideologies

by Elizabeth H. DeBray - 2007

This article is a policy analysis that considers how the policy option of using federal programs to promote educational choice was proposed and debated in the 106th and 107th Congresses. This debate was part of the reauthorization of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) between 1999 and 2001. Over the past 20 years, Congress has debated numerous variants of private school voucher plans. The account demonstrates how the positions of the Clinton and Bush administrations, the 2000 presidential election, think tanks’ advocacy of educational privatization, and public opinion shaped congressional action. The article explains why private school voucher proposals failed to pass in two consecutive Congresses, when the Republicans held control of both houses for three of the four sessions. The article draws on interviews with congressional aides and members of interest groups during the ESEA reauthorization process, and it applies John Kingdon’s framework on agenda formation to explain the persistence of alternatives for privatization within Title I. The issue of school choice in Congress reveals the limits of the GOP’s ideological unity—that is, that there could be demands from Republican Party leadership to include vouchers in Title I, but President George W. Bush chose to steer his party away from those demands.


This article is an analysis of how the educational policy option of using federal programs to promote educational choice was proposed and debated in the 106th and 107th Congresses as part of the reauthorization of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) between 1999 and 2001. Over the past 20 years, private school vouchers have been a plank in the Republican Party platform, and Congress has debated numerous variants of private school voucher plans. The 106th Congress, however, marked the first time that a measure allowing parents to spend dollars for private service providers in Title I passed in a congressional committee during the reauthorization process; the measure resurfaced in the 107th Congress and was passed as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. While private school vouchers are not part of the No Child Left Behind Act, “supplemental services,” which allow Title I dollars to flow to a variety of institutions, including private ones, are a central part of the legislation’s mandated accountability measures for low-performing schools.

This analysis covers a period (1998–2001) prior to the 2002 Supreme Court ruling on vouchers, in which the court ruled 5–4 that the Cleveland program was constitutional. While this ruling will shift the politics of vouchers, these two Congresses are significant for a number of reasons. First, they demonstrate the strength of what David Mayhew called “the electoral connection”1 and the willingness of both parties to compromise. That is, it documents how the positions of the Clinton and Bush administrations, the 2000 presidential election, think tanks’ advocacy of educational privatization, and public opinion on the issue all shaped the eventual privatization measures that passed in No Child Left Behind. The analytic focus is not on the implementation of passed measures, but rather on the legislative process that produced a variety of policy proposals over a three-year period. The 106th (i.e., second Clinton) Congress did not complete the reauthorization of the ESEA, largely because of sharp partisan divisions leading up to the 2000 presidential election.2 The 107th Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 under the Bush White House’s leadership and with broad support from both parties.

For purposes of this article, the phrase school choice refers to the range of legislative proposals that would offer parents selection of the school their child attends, whether within the public or private system. Vouchers, however, refers to private and parochial school choice only.

The article offers a political analysis of why private school voucher proposals failed to pass in these two consecutive Congresses, when the Republicans held control of both houses for three of the four sessions. The issue of school choice in Congress reveals that there was a strong ideological commitment from the Republican Party leadership on a particular educational issue, as well as strong demands by some of its members to use private school choice to reform Title I. Yet those demands did not translate into Republican support for passage of a private school choice measure in either Congress because of the divisions between moderate and conservative Republicans.

An examination of the politics of choice in the most recent ESEA reauthorization is an essential foundation for the future study of choice legislation, which has become even more complex since this study was conducted. It offers the field of federal education policy analysis a critical base for understanding the shifting political terrain on choice. It is particularly relevant in light of the congressional passage of a pilot voucher program for the District of Columbia in 2004 and the changed constitutional standard for vouchers in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2002 Zelman v. Simmons-Harris ruling.3

The next section of this article outlines the framework used to analyze congressional action and the overview of my argument, as well as the methods employed in the study. I provide a context for the choice measures debated in these two Congresses by briefly reviewing the history of voucher proposals in Congress since the early 1980s. Next, I outline the range of proposals in the 106th Congress for privatization of instructional services in Title I, and which members supported them and why. I then consider why they failed to gain broad support. Following this analysis, I show how President Bush’s willingness to drop voucher proposals from the No Child Left Behind Act was a major reason for Democratic cooperation in both the bill’s passage in the 107th Congress and for the approval of the limited privatization measure: supplemental services. I conclude with a discussion of what the issue of choice tells us about the congressional politics of the current federal role in education, specifically about the limits of the Republican Party leadership to marshal support on what has been a key ideological issue. The conclusion considers two other developments since 2002: the political consequences of the Zelman voucher decision for future Congresses and the passage in January 2004 of a pilot program for vouchers in the District of Columbia Public Schools.


I apply John Kingdon’s conceptual frame of agenda setting and alternative specification in the policy process to examine why public school choice and supplemental services passed in Title I in lieu of vouchers. Kingdon characterized the fluid environment on Capitol Hill, in which alternatives and proposals circulate, as the “policy primeval soup.”4 Whether or not a particular idea is on the larger political agenda, interest groups, think tanks, officials in cabinet agencies, and congressional aides generate alternatives to a particular policy problem. Policy communities are composed of specialists in a given policy area, some of whom work on committee staffs, in interest groups, or outside Washington as academics or consultants.5 In terms of the relevance to the present case, the key fact is that the community generates these ideas on a continual basis, year in and year out, independent of what Kingdon terms the “political stream.” As he wrote,

This community of specialists hums along on its own, independent of such political events as changes of administration and pressure from legislators’ constituencies. These specialists are affected by and react to the political events, to be sure. But the forces that drive the policy stream are quite different: each has a life of its own, independent of the other.6

The political stream, which is independent of the policy stream, “is composed of such factors as swings of national mood, election results, changes of administration, changes of ideological or partisan distributions in Congress, and interest group pressure campaigns.”7 When the political stream and the policy stream converge, a policy “window”8 for enactment is said to open. This means that “a problem is recognized, a solution is developed and available in the policy community, a political change makes it the right time for policy change, and potential constraints are not severe.”9 In short, a solution—an alternative from the policy stream, which may be either a new one or one that has persisted in a policy community for a long time—gets matched to the problem. The hypothesis to be tested in my interview data was whether this model of alternative generation and specification, and of the policy and political streams joining, was applicable. After the overview of methods to follow, a summary of the major findings is presented.


The data in this article are part of a larger study, conducted in the United States Congress between 1999 and 2002, of the politics of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), with a particular focus on Title I. The research questions relied on Kingdon’s work on agenda formation: What was the process by which the legislative agenda was being developed? What were the political ideologies and interests supporting the emergence of this agenda? What were the major sources of political contention, compromise, and coalition-building in the legislative process? What were the sources of the ideas proposed, whether from inside or outside government?10

It is important to emphasize that the interviews’ major focus was not on the politics of school choice; rather, aides were asked about choice whenever a proposal or amendment appeared to be a salient political factor in the negotiation and bargaining on Title I. Choice and privatization of instructional services developed as prominent issues in the examination of the two parties’ ideological differences over Title I as part of the larger debate about accountability. Private school choice measures played out very differently in the 106th Congress than in the 107th, which makes a unified analysis of the events across both Congresses compelling.

Data collection was based on the idea that a multiplicity of types of sources was necessary for the development of a case study of agenda formation.11 The study relied on interviews with congressional aides working on education policy; governmental reports; selected internal staff memoranda; and numerous congressional members’ policy briefs or public statements on education issues. Over a three-year period, five rounds of interviews were conducted with congressional aides of both parties at the education committee and subcommittee levels in the House and Senate, with interest groups, and with staff of the U.S. Department of Education. Approximately 36 aides from both political parties were interviewed during this period. The aides were selected for interviews based on (1) their close involvement with the Title I reauthorization; (2) their contribution to an overall representative balance of political parties and ideologies on the House and Senate education committees; and (3) their availability. While some of the aides interviewed were the same in both the 106th and 107th Congresses, there was a great deal of staff turnover due to the elections and new committee assignments. The audiotaped interviews were semistructured and focused on the aides’ perceptions of the origins of various policy proposals, of the political ideologies of their bosses, of the sources of compromise and/or contention on the education bill, and of the political dynamics on the education committee on which their member served.

In addition to the interviews with aides, interviews were conducted with 15 members of interest groups, organizations, and think tanks from across the political spectrum between 2000 and 2002. These groups included the American Association of School Administrators, the National Education Association, the Education Trust, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Heritage Foundation, the Progressive Policy Institute, the Expect Coalition, the National Governors’ Association, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. These interviews focused on the organizations’ strategies for gaining access to the political process and their positions on Title I policy.

The key limitation of the data is that the interviews offer only aides’ and interest group members’ perceptions of the political process. However, it was still possible to attain a reliable picture of how institutional relationships functioned because the interviews were conducted across the governmental and nongovernmental sectors over a three-year period and included the vantage points of the key actors involved in the policymaking process.


In applying Kingdon’s model to the enactment of privatization measures in these two Congresses, I find that the window for approving a limited privatization measure in Title I finally opened in 2001, nearly 20 years after the Reagan administration had proposed such measures. The “problem,” as members of Congress, congressional staff, and think tanks characterized it, was the failure of compensatory education to improve the achievement of economically disadvantaged students in spite of the billions of dollars spent on it over the past 35 years. As Sally Lovejoy, the chief education advisor to the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said at the beginning of the ESEA reauthorization in 1999,

even [Democratic Representative] George Miller has said over and over, what has $120 billion dollars gotten us since 1965?...Certainly money is part of the solution, but it certainly hasn’t been the solution, ‘cause we have spent over $120 billion on Title I alone. That’s why I think you’ve seen reports after reports after reports. If kids were doing so wonderfully, you wouldn’t hear people say Title I is failing, or Title I isn’t doing well.12

Some think tanks contended that introducing other providers—some from the private sector—would make the Title I program more “child centered.”13 The alternatives of portability, supplemental services, and public school choice had been able to mature on Capitol Hill because of a combination of factors. These included the revival of limited voucher proposals in Title I (which had first surfaced in the 1980s), reinvigorated writing and advocacy from education policy think tanks in the 1990s, and the support of the executive branch. Not only President Bush supported privatization initiatives; President Clinton had been a strong advocate of public school choice, which also was added as a sanction in Title I.

The major change in the political stream that enabled the enactment of privatization was the control of both houses of Congress by the Republican Party. This was the first time since the Great Society programs were enacted that this had been the case and, thus, the first reauthorization when Republican Hill staff had managed the reauthorization of an omnibus education bill. As described in DeBray’s doctoral thesis on the politics of the ESEA, the demographic and ideological realignment of the two parties over the past 20 years is the other major underlying change in the political stream that shaped the character of education policy proposals in Congress between 1999 and 2001.14 That is, the old alliance between northern moderate Republicans and moderate and liberal Democrats that had sustained support for categorical education programs like Title I for the past 30 years had greatly diminished by 1999. These two changes, which are the subject for separate papers, shaped both the agenda and the alternatives in education policy in these two Congresses. The more conservative GOP members who controlled Congress were positioned to propose major changes to federal programs, such as vouchers and block-granting.

The Kingdon model, however well it fits this case, does not explain why these two Republican-dominated Congresses voted down private school vouchers as part of the package of sanctions in Title I, and did so by a larger margin in the 107th than the 106th. I offer an electoral hypothesis to explain the mismatch between the GOP leadership’s high-priority support for private school vouchers and moderate Republicans’ reluctance to support it. As David Price has argued, members of Congress have very few incentives to embrace ideas that entail a high level of risk or controversy.15 Thus, many Republican suburban and rural representatives were not willing during this particular time frame to pass a voucher bill that presumably would have taken funds from public schools. Support for vouchers has been weakest in the suburbs and affluent communities, where alternatives such as charter schools have proved far more popular. However, I also argue that the vetting of private school vouchers in these two particular Congresses, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2002 Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision, may have provided the legislative prelude to vouchers in Title I in subsequent reauthorizations.

Table 1 presents a diagrammatic representation of the Kingdon model of agenda formation as applied to the case of vouchers in the 106th and 107th Congresses. The ideas for federally funded vouchers emerged in Congress in the 1970s, when a small demonstration program was approved for Alum Rock, California. This was ultimately restricted to public school choice; it was not until the 1980s that voucher payments as part of Title I were proposed. Although the Reagan administration was unsuccessful in getting this proposal passed, largely because of the opposition of House Democratic leadership, its relevance to the Kingdon model is that the idea had persisted on Capitol Hill for over 20 years. Other variations of the policy idea survived intact, including tuition tax credits, “tuition assistance grants” in Head Start, and the D.C. pilot voucher program.

Kingdon described the “national mood” as a factor that members of Congress and their staff can sense and that in part determines whether a proposal’s time for enactment has come.16 This too is a factor in explaining why moderate Republicans perceived that the time was not yet right to enact vouchers as part of an omnibus K–12 education bill. During the 1990s, numerous state referenda on vouchers, notably in California and Michigan, were defeated by margins of 2 to 1, likely signaling to both Democrats and moderate Republican lawmakers that their constituents were not yet supportive of vouchers. When the issue emerged in 1998 in the 106th Congress, the ESEA reauthorization process defined the alternatives—how far Democrats would go to the center and how far the Republican leadership could take its members on the issue of choice. Both portability and supplemental services in Title I appear in legislative form in the House and Senate education committees. The 106th Congress failed to reauthorize the law. The presidential election bridging the two Congresses further helped define the alternatives as candidates Bush and Gore drew distinctions over their support for vouchers. In the 107th Congress, the stream of alternatives and the political stream are joined sufficiently for public school choice to be strengthened as a sanction in Title I and for supplemental services to be enacted, but the Bush administration drops vouchers from No Child Left Behind. Thus, to use Kingdon’s conception, the idea’s time came for privatization in the ESEA, but a limited and constrained version of privatization that does not extend to private schools.

Table 1. Alternatives for Choice and Privatization in the Policy Stream

Proprivatization Alternatives on Capitol Hill from the 1980s and 1990s

Tuition tax credits

Targeted Assistance Grants

Vouchers in Chapter I

D.C. voucher pilot

Public Mood

Ballot measures for vouchers (CA, MI) defeated

Pilot voucher programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland

106th (1999–2000)

Conservative think tanks propose “portability”

Supplemental services debated and passed in Senate committee (Gregg’s 10-state pilot)

Rep. Petri proposes Title I portability based on Milwaukee

Public school choice strengthened (Clinton brings Democrats to center)

GOP leadership’s two voucher proposals defeated on House floor (Armey amendments)

Presidential Election (2000)

Bush’s support for vouchers vs. Gore’s support for public school choice as sanctions

Solidifies moderate Democrats’ embrace of public school choice/transfer as central to Title I accountability

107th (2001–2002)

Bush abandons private/paro- chial school  vouchers

Rep. Miller, Sen. Kennedy embrace supplemental services compromise

Senate: Gregg’s voucher pilot voted down on floor

Public school choice enacted as Title I sanction – effective fall 2002

House GOP leadership’s two voucher proposals defeated on floor (Armey amendments)


Much of this article describes the emergence and refinement over several years of two new choice proposals: portability and supplemental services. The two are closely related, but clarifying the differences between them will be useful to the reader in the account that follows.

Regarding portability, it is useful to bear in mind that Title I has always contained provisions allowing dollars to follow eligible children. For instance, if an eligible child in a low-income area attends a private school outside the boundaries of that district, the local educational agency (LEA) is still responsible for providing services for that student. In states with open enrollment or other choice policies in the public system, when an eligible student by law becomes a “resident” of the LEA of choice, that receiving district bears the responsibility for providing the instructional services.17 If an eligible student has the means to choose another district within the public school system, then Title I dollars may still follow the child to the new school. Whatever school provides the instructional services, the district is responsible for the administration of funds.

Portability is a term designating a set of proposals for Title I that entered the policy stream in the 106th Congress. The passage of a portability proposal would have signified a major change in the mechanism of the administration of program dollars. Portability, as it was proposed in the 106th Congress, meant that entire states and districts could tie program funds to the backs of eligible students and give parents control over where to spend the allocation. Parents could take the money to purchase instructional services in a variety of institutions, public, private, or at an “instructional service provider” (a private business that offers academic tutoring, for example), depending on the proposal. After President George W. Bush took office in 2001 and introduced his blueprint for the No Child Left Behind Education Act, the proposal was referred to in congressional debates as “supplemental services,” referring specifically to the instructional services that parents could purchase if their child attended a school identified as low performing under Title I. The distinction between the two concepts is subtle but important. Portability, in its pure form proposed by Fordham, would have permitted federal dollars to flow out of the public system to private schools. Supplemental services is a term designating a range of educational options, from public to private. In the version approved in No Child Left Behind, the state approves the list of providers; dollars may flow to independent service providers or church-affiliated groups but stop short of allowing tuition to be paid at private schools.

A proposal for disbursing Chapter I/Title I money to parents had not been introduced in Congress since 1983, when the Reagan administration introduced a plan that would have allowed states to mandate Chapter I vouchers statewide.18 This article traces both how the alternatives of portability and supplemental services were revived in think tanks in the late 1990s and how they then fared politically in Congress throughout the ESEA reauthorization process.


The issue of giving vouchers for parents to send children to private schools involves a confrontation between conservatives and public school advocates. Legislative proposals to send federal dollars to private schools have been placed before Congress since the 1960s and at different times have been endorsed by both conservatives and liberals (in the case of the Alum Rock, California, pilot program).19 However, vouchers had a revived national visibility during the Reagan and first George Bush administrations and were proposed intermittently in Congress throughout the 1990s without successful passage. In January 2004, the 108th Congress approved a pilot voucher program for the District of Columbia.

The lines in the 1990s were drawn between conservative advocates, who contended that introducing private school choice options for parents will provide incentives for the public system to improve, and public school advocates, who argued that such measures would drain scarce resources from the public system while providing little accountability to taxpayers. In June 2002, the Supreme Court ruled 5–4, in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, that Ohio’s Pilot Project Scholarship Program, which provides tuition aid for low-income students in the Cleveland City School District who transfer to private and religious schools, was not a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s provisions regarding the separation of church and state. Under Ohio’s program, parents may use vouchers at state-funded community schools, magnet schools, and secular or religious private schools; the justices held that the program allows “true private choice” to parents.20 The ruling affirming the constitutionality of parents being able to spend public monies for children’s attendance at private and/or parochial schools was hailed as a historic victory by voucher advocates.

In the 106th Congress, the key ideological issue about choice was whether the underlying governance structure of Title I should to be overhauled by turning funds into a per-pupil entitlement in the hands of parents. The portability proposal offered in the House would have allowed dollars to follow students to private schools, whereas the Senate bill would have allowed parents to spend dollars at independent service providers. Although many moderate Democrats supported expansion of parental choice within the public school system, the Democratic Party leadership opposed vouchers that could be spent at private schools or other private tutorial centers. The Republican Party leadership supported vouchers to private schools, but many moderate Republicans voted against such measures. The history of voucher proposals in Congress over the past two decades shows the GOP’s persistence in keeping the idea of privatization on the agenda—as part of the policy “stream”—even when the prospects for enactment were low.


While Congress passed and funded a limited pilot voucher program in Alum Rock, California, in the mid-1970s, it was in the 1980s that privatization measures were first introduced as part of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. President Ronald Reagan’s values and ideological commitment to free-market forces led him to seek legislation that would allow parents to send their children to private, including parochial, schools.21 The Reagan administration sent voucher bills to Congress in 1983, 1985, and 1986, which were not passed because of the organized opposition of unions and of many moderate congressional Republicans.22 George Bush’s first education secretary, Lauro Cavazos, indicated in 1990 that the administration supported the Milwaukee voucher experiment. Bush and his Education Secretary, Lamar Alexander (who succeeded Cavazos), proposed a “GI Bill for Children” in the 1992 budget. The plan called for grants to state and local school districts to offer $1,000 scholarships for children in low- and middle-income families to attend any public, private, or parochial school, and up to half of each scholarship could be used to purchase supplementary academic services and after-school tutoring. The plan called for a total of 2,000 such scholarships.23 Further, the income eligibility criteria would be set by the state and local grant recipients.24 As Viteritti noted of the “GI Bill for Children,” “Given the minimal amount of the voucher and the middle-income criterion set for eligibility, Bush’s plan was as much targeted at middle-class constituents as at the poor.”25

Despite the defeat of Bush’s “GI Bill for Children,” and the defeat in 1993 of a voucher referendum in California by a 7–3 margin, congressional Republicans, and a few Democrats, continued to propose voucher measures. In 1997, a bill cosponsored by Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Rep. Floyd Flake (D-NY) proposed scholarships by lottery in the amount of $3,000 to 2,000 poor students in the District of Columbia to be used at a private, public, or parochial school. The mobilization of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as well as the National Education Association, ensured its defeat,26 even in a Congress with two Republican-dominated houses. (The measure foundered until January 2004, when the 108th Congress finally approved a targeted pilot voucher program for the District of Columbia, a development that is analyzed in the conclusion of this article.) After 1995, when the GOP took control of both houses of Congress, Republicans have brought voucher bills to floor votes relatively few times, considering its relative high priority for the conservative movement. As Thad Hall wrote in 2003, “School vouchers have been conspicuously absent since the ‘Republican revolution.’ There has been a paucity of votes on the issue over the past eight years.”27 In the 106th Congress, 19 voucher bills were introduced, but only 11 in the 107th. Hall noted that when voucher bills were introduced—for instance, the Helping Empower Low-Income Parents scholarship program in 1997—it was moderate Republican representatives like Nancy Johnson (R-CT), Jim Leach (R-IA), and Michael Castle (R-DE) who opposed them. Marge Roukema (R-NJ) proclaimed during the HELP debate that “ultimately, these vouchers will result in gutting the public school system.”28

President Clinton, although opposing vouchers to private schools, supported public school choice (including charters) and took the choice paradigm as far as it could go without reaching into the realm of privatization.

Despite this legacy of the numerous failed congressional voucher bills throughout the 1980s and 1990s, there was still focused ideological support for market-based reforms from conservative think tanks and organizations, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Education Reform. Their advocacy of privatization in education, as a 1999 report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy documented, ranged from providing “analytical support” to developing ballot initiatives:

Specific projects undertaken by conservative think tanks in 1996 included analyzing and promoting the Milwaukee school choice program, developing a ballot initiative for California that would allow school vouchers, advocating privatization of school operations…compiling data on the effectiveness of charter schools, and developing plans to increase local and parental control over schools and reduce the Federal government’s role in this area. In education, as in other areas, smaller conservative think tanks have played a growing role in the 1990s in echoing, amplifying, and sometimes refining key conservative arguments. Here, as elsewhere, the conservative policy infrastructure demonstrated one of its greatest strengths: providing a multiplicity of credentialed experts who put forth similar viewpoints.29

Kingdon, writing about how ideas persist on Capitol Hill, noted that “there is nothing new under the sun”;30 such was the case with re-emerging proposals in 1999 for portability in Title I; as noted earlier, the Reagan administration in both 1983 and 1985 had proposed to allow states or, in the event states opted against it, local school systems, to offer vouchers in Chapter I.31 The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s and Brookings Institution’s scholars revived the idea, publishing position papers and sharing them with congressional staff. The proponents’ two chief justifications for turning Title I into a portable entitlement were that (1) the program was funding “unwieldy bureaucracies,” not poor children, as Diane Ravitch wrote,32 and (2) each state should be able to arrive at its own political decisions about choice and deregulation; as Chester Finn of Fordham wrote, “the only sensible stance for Uncle Sam is neutrality.”33

It is important to note that support for vouchers in the 1990s came not only from ideological conservatives but also from the mobilization of a coalition of minority educators and parents, some of whom saw vouchers as an escape from chronically failing urban public systems. One example is the Black Alliance for Educational Options, led by Howard Fuller, a former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools who has been actively supportive of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.34 This support of urban poor and minority parents, documented most recently by Terry Moe, has not translated into Democrats’ electoral support in Congress, a political aspect to be considered later in this article.


Although many legislative proposals fell under the broad category of choice, they were quite different in what they specified, how many states they would apply to (in the case of pilot programs), and the means for ensuring accountability.

Table 2 shows the array of policy alternatives for choice in Title I during the 106th Congress. It also gives examples of the groups and members who were their proponents during the reauthorization process in the 106th Congress.

Table 2. Political Positions on Educational Choice in the 106th Congress

Moderate or “New” Democratic—policies to actively expand public school choice through charters, magnets, inter- and intradistrict transfers.

Underlying structure of Title I monies flowing to schoolwides not altered.

(Clinton, Lieberman)

Modified Conservative—Dollars follow from Title I school to parents of eligible child to service provider or another public school or separate service provider like Sylvan Learning. (Gregg portability pilot)

Might include moderate Republicans like Michael Castle, who didn’t vote for the Petri amendment, and Jeffords, who voted “present” on Gregg portability in committee.

Traditional Democratic—Kennedy, Wellstone: support provisions for public school transfer-out provisions for students in failing schools under Title I.

Traditional Democratic “plus”: Emphasis on strengthening law in state and LEA that specify corrective action in failing schools. (Bingaman, Reed)

Conservative—Federal policy ought to get out of the way, dollars follow child to any school as far as state law allows. (Petri, Armey, Heritage, Finn of Thomas B. Fordham)

Convert federal dollars to vouchers that may be used at public or private school if school continues to fail under Title I. (George W. Bush)

These categories are not immutable; they represent the variety of policy positions taken by members of Congress and presidential candidates during 1999 and 2000. For instance, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) in the past had favored federal dollars to private schools, but his ESEA reauthorization bill included only broadening public school choice, a Clinton option. Senator Gregg (R-NH) did not call for portability that would extend to private schools, but it might actually have been his intent to open the door to that in the future, or to allow it to begin to occur in practice. Republicans and Democrats alike voted for measures that would strengthen parental notification requirements for their right to transfer their child out of a failing school to the public school of their choice. These positions would become increasingly fluid and open to compromise in the 107th Congress. It is also notable that this typology is parallel to the positions in other areas of social policy, notably welfare reform, in which centrist Democrats favored less governmental regulation and increased competition, following President Clinton to the right.35

There were two other sets of competing policy proposals that complicated the new calls of think tanks for “portability,” or “child-centered programs” on the ESEA agenda in 1999. The first set was New Democratic proposals, namely Clinton’s and Lieberman’s, for using the legislation to expand public school choice. The second set was Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush’s proposal to take monies from failing Title I schools after three years and allow students to use them for attendance at a public or private school of their choice. That vouchers were a high-profile issue in the election only made the Senate Republican leadership advocate them more vigorously, once again staking out vouchers as their party’s political terrain.


In Kingdon’s model, the executive has enormous advantage in setting the agenda and defining the range of alternatives.36 President Bill Clinton, one of the founders of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), had long supported expanding public school choice, including charter and magnet schools. The Progressive Policy Institute, the think-tank arm of the DLC, which Clinton had helped to found, actively promulgated the idea that parents should be given a far greater range of educational choices with the public system. Toward the end of his term, he began to talk about a federal role in “fixing failing schools,” and public school choice was a policy he promulgated as part of that strategy. In the 2000 budget, Clinton successfully negotiated to set aside $130 million for schools in corrective action under Title I, but making those funds available to allow parents of children in those schools to transfer them to another public school. Choice was now a corrective action that had to be taken.

Thus, applying the Kingdon framework, the Clinton administration not only helped set the agenda for public school choice but also actively participated in the development of legislative alternatives that would foster that agenda. For instance, in his radio address of February 27, 2000, Clinton stated, “With today’s action, we’re declaring as a nation that we will not fail our children by tolerating failing schools. Fixing a failing school isn’t easy, but communities are proving every day that it can be done. So we must continue to invest more and demand more.”37 The guidelines suggest measures like toughening curricula, improving teacher training, or shutting schools, then reopening them as charter schools or with new leadership. But central to the proposal was that students in a chronically failing school would have the option of transferring to a better one.38

The administration’s support for such measures was not universally popular with more liberal Democrats in Congress or with many outside education interest groups. As one Republican staff member of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, Denzel McGuire, described Clinton’s “deal” for Title I choice that had just been sealed in the 1999 budget process,

I do think the administration plays a unique role in that they sometimes now push certain things that their own Democrats don’t support. Like the fact that they accepted this deal on public school choice has offended most of the education “blob,”39 as we call it, as well as some House and Senate Democrats…The administration is much more fond of charter schools than a lot of House and Senate Democrats…the administration agreed to that but the House and Senate Democrats have been, I think, dismayed about that agreement.40

Senator Lieberman’s “Public Education Reinvestment, Reinvention, and Responsibility Act” reflected the same Democratic centrist philosophy, proposing competitive grant programs to expand public school choice, such as magnet schools. Like Clinton, Lieberman promoted experimentation with choice within the public school system. One competitive program would allow districts or states to experiment with interdistrict school choice. Through expanding grants for charter schools and mandating choice as a corrective action in Title I, the Clinton administration had promoted and expanded public school choice as far as it could go within the limits of the public school system. While only 13 senators, all centrist “New Democrats,” voted for his bill, the significance of Lieberman’s proposal is that he enhanced the range of acceptable alternatives by promoting public school choice within the Democratic caucus.

The variety of proposals in the reauthorization process of 1999–2000 reflected efforts to expand that paradigm or to extend it into the private sector. The significance of the 106th Congress is that it was an opportunity for members to propose privatization measures and to define the range of “alternatives” or policy choices. A few of these carried over into both the debate and legislation in the 107th. For a chronological list of the proposals for choice and privatization in the two Congresses, refer to Appendix A.


The professed motivation of Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI) for introducing a portability measure in Title I was that the nation’s experiment with compensatory education had been a failure, and the federal government had spent billions of dollars with zero result. Competition would improve Title I outcomes, he and other Republicans alleged, by allowing money to flow to the families of individual poor children rather than to the LEAs. Drawing on what he saw as success in Wisconsin’s voucher program in Milwaukee, Rep. Petri was not reticent about arguing that Title I dollars should go to a public or private school. Arguing that “consumer choice produces better products,” Petri proposed that states should have the option of turning Title I into a “portable” program, under which funds would follow students to the public or private school of their choice.41

In his radio address to Wisconsin constituents, he appealed to what he saw as the home-grown success of the Milwaukee experiment:

suggested we allow up to ten states to develop test programs to see if providing education vouchers for disadvantaged children—as we already have in Milwaukee—could open up some educational alternatives and stimulate some competition in providing educational services. My hope is that the parents of educationally disadvantaged children could find better ways to spend the money than the bureaucracies which currently control the funds.42

In his appeal for support the week before, he wrote in favor of making Title I more “market-driven”:

Surely it’s time to allow some states to experiment with a market model rather than a bureaucratic one. Why not give parents the power to purchase the services they think will help their children? In all other markets, consumer choice produces better products and service. Why not let some states try it in education? What have we got to lose?43

Petri’s portability amendment was unsuccessful both in the House Education and Workforce committee and on the floor. In the committee, it was defeated 13–28. “This amendment provides real power to the people and one of the strongest kinds—real purchasing power,” said Petri.44 But Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Indiana), considered a moderate Democrat, countered that portability was a “90s focus group phrase for vouchers.”45

In response, Rep. Petri scaled his proposal back to a 10-state demonstration program, requiring the approval of governor and legislature, but it still did not pass in committee. Congressman Michael Castle (R-DE), chair of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families, was instrumental in opposing Petri. As his aide, Kara Haas, explained, Representative Castle was not ready to legislate about choice: “The Congressman, personally, isn’t ready to make that next step to private school choice. He’s not sure how exactly that works. He thinks it’s something that maybe the courts have to wrestle with a little more before we start legislating about it.”46

Rep. Castle was joined by House Committee on Education and the Workforce chairman Rep. Bill Goodling in opposing Rep. Petri’s version of portability extending to private schools.47 In the end, it only took the defection of several moderate committee Republicans to defeat the measure. On the House floor, Petri again offered the 10-state pilot as an amendment, but it failed 153–271.

The GOP leadership, however, persisted in introducing voucher bills on the floor even after Rep. Petri’s pilot proposal was defeated. Majority leader Richard Armey offered a voucher amendment on the floor, the Pupil Safety, Academic Emergency Act. The measure would have provided up to $3,500 in “academic emergency relief” funds (a total of $500 million over five years) to the parents of participating eligible children in consistently failing Title I schools, redeemable at private schools. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 166–257, a vote tally that included fifty-two Republicans opposed and three Democrats in favor.48 This vote signified that Republican support in the House for sending dollars to private schools had dwindled since 1997, when a voucher proposal had been defeated 191–228.49

Appendix B contains a table showing the names of all House Republicans who voted No on the Armey amendment, which would have provided vouchers to parents to transfer their children out of “unsafe and failing” schools. The table shows each member’s congressional district, town or city of home post offices, and the population of that town according to the 2000 census. There are three main categories of the home Congressional districts of those voting No. The first category is suburban, such as Falls Church, Virginia, and Wilmette, Illinois. The second category is relatively affluent small towns, such as Katonah, New York, and Rancho Palos Verdes, California. They are not suburban, since they are not in a metropolitan area, but they have constituents who are content with local and well-funded public schools. The third category includes rural areas, presumably where there would be few private schools for students to transfer to or where there are few schools deemed “unsafe.” There is at least one surprising example of a conservative Republican voting No: Rep. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina (now a senator), who had been one of the most loyal of the 1995 Gingrich freshman class. In sum, the common attribute of these members’ home districts with respect to school choice is that there is apparently little constituent demand for private school vouchers.

Further, these moderate Republican members were aware that there was visible evidence from two states that public opinion was not supportive of vouchers for private schools. The House voted on HR2 in October 2000, when polls in both Michigan and California showed that voucher initiatives on the November ballots there were unpopular with roughly two-thirds of voters. For instance, leading up to the November election, a Detroit News poll found that Proposal 1, which would have given vouchers for private schools to parents of children in seven failing Michigan school districts, was trailing in the polls by 29%–56%.50 A Los Angeles Times poll on October 26, 2000, found that two-thirds of voters said they planned to vote against Proposition 38, a measure that would have provided a $4,000 voucher for every California schoolchild to attend a private or religious school.51 (Fully 70% of California voters rejected a similar ballot initiative in 1993).52 The poll predictions were accurate: the measures were defeated by a 2-to-1 ratio in both states.53 The 2000 Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup survey posed the following question about vouchers: “Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?” Fifty-six percent of respondents were opposed, and 39% were in favor.54

To put these votes in broader context, it is apparent that while the Republican Party leadership in the House throughout the 1990s proposed voucher amendments, the Republican members were sensitive to public opinion and cast their votes against them. Republicans in Congress perceived that to vote in favor of vouchers was to take a risk with their mostly suburban and, in some cases, rural constituents. GOP members could safely support ideological positions such as block-granting without fear of disrupting their constituent base, but their support of vouchers would potentially upset their constituents, who were largely content with their public schools. It was safe for conservative activists to attack federal education policy in general. But with 90% of American students still in public schools and most Americans still having very positive attitudes toward their own schools,55 Republicans perceived that supporting vouchers was an electoral risk that they would not take.


Public school choice emerged as a critical issue on which both committee and floor could reach a bipartisan agreement, however fragile. This signaled that school choice within the public system was increasingly embraced by coalitions on the left and the right. Clinton’s endorsement of choice within the public system, including charters, had heightened the acceptance of this in federal education policy. As Terry Moe has written, public school choice is an alternative to private school vouchers on which liberal opponents and conservative supporters have increasingly agreed.56

In 1994, the Improving America’s Schools Act (IASA) specified public school choice as one possible option after three years of a school’s having been designated low-performing. The initial designation would be “school improvement,” meaning a school receiving Title I funds had not made “adequate yearly progress” on its assessments. After that period, choice could be part of a state’s or LEA’s intervention for “corrective action.” This time, though, the House’s moderate committee Democrats agreed that students should be able to transfer out of a failing public school and that parents should be notified within 18 months of a school’s being designated in “school improvement.” Representative Robert Schaffer’s (R-CO) amendment introduced provisions allowing students to transfer out of unsafe schools that were also in “school improvement” status in Title I.

Moderate Democrats in both houses supported a faster timeline for public school choice as an accountability measure for failing schools, which assured its victory in both the House and the Senate bills. These tightened public school choice measures in Title I raised several ground-level questions of implementation. For instance, the law cannot guarantee that higher-performing schools will accept every student who wants to transfer in from a low-performing one. Furthermore, when interdistrict public school choice is not permitted, Title I students’ only option within many large districts is transferring to another school with high levels of concentrated poverty and low academic achievement.

Choice provisions were couched in a variety of terms and invoked with differing justifications. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), a former New Hampshire governor and member of the House of Representatives, had been an advocate for expanding educational options for families, including private school vouchers, since joining the Senate in 1993. (Gregg is close to President Bush and worked hard in his support during the presidential campaign.)57 His proposal was called the Child-Centered Education Act. The problem, as Gregg defined it, was the structure of money going to schools and districts rather than to eligible children. The proposal, circulated in late October, alleged a problem of “program creep” in Title I, presumably meaning that the way funds are administered had made it difficult to focus on students’ educational needs.58

“This process of sending dollars to districts and schools rather than students has a serious unintended consequence—millions of eligible children never receive the educational services promised them by this program,” read Gregg’s literature.59 Thus, the Senator defined the main problem in Title I as its tying dollars to schools rather than students. Portability, on the other hand, would not drain resources away from public schools, he claimed, because the Title I allocation would be sent to the schools, which would disburse allocations to parents. According to Gregg, policies should “reward good schools, punish poor ones,”60 which echoed the language commonly used by voucher advocates to justify the competition that vouchers would introduce into the public school system. He claimed that using the money to purchase supplemental services would serve as an incentive for schools to improve their overall instructional programs, yet his proposal did not address the mechanism by which parents’ use of an entitlement to purchase “supplemental educational services” would improve a low-performing school’s instructional program. In short, Gregg did not offer a plan for how, exactly, portability would improve student performance, aside from references to competition among schools. It was a measure to alter the governance of Title I in selected states and districts.

Gregg and his staff denied that portability was a “back door” to vouchers. While the bill technically did not allow money to flow directly to private schools, it was close. A state or LEA would apply to the Department of Education to participate in the pilot program for five years. Allocations of Title I funding would flow through districts to a child’s public school, where parents would then have a choice of how to use the allocation. Once the state or LEA would make available a per-pupil allocation, parents could use it to help purchase instructional services at a wide array of locations. The report of the Senate committee bill reads,

The supplemental education services will be provided by the school directly or through supplemental services with a governmental or non-governmental agency, school, postsecondary institution, another entity; or if directed by the parent of an eligible child, the supplemental services may be provided through a school-based program or through a tutorial service provider.61

If parents chose to spend their allocation with a tutorial assistance provider, such as Sylvan Learning Centers, the school or the LEA would have to reimburse that provider when notified by the parent that the services had been provided in a satisfactory manner.

It is important to note that unlike presidential candidate George W. Bush’s proposals for choice, Gregg’s portability proposals were not just for failing Title I schools. His proposal was more comprehensive in that if a state applied to the Department of Education to participate in the 10-state pilot program, parents in any Title I school in that state could participate.

Gregg sponsored another successful amendment in committee allowing Title I students to transfer out of unsafe schools. This applied in two sets of circumstances: the child had been a victim of a violent criminal offense, or the state had designated a school unsafe. Local educational agencies where the violence occurred would be required to bear the costs of transportation to another public school or public charter school. The same amendment also strengthened the interdistrict transfer provisions for students in “school improvement” status. The amendment stated that once a school was no longer in need of improvement, the school had to continue to offer the option of public school choice for at least two years.


Portability was at odds with the “schoolwide” concept of qualifying for funds and being able to plan to use them to serve all students. Schoolwide programs in Title I refer to the ability of a school with a threshold of 50% or more students in poverty to use its allocated funds to serve all students, regardless of poverty status. With portability, Title I funds would be tied to students based solely on poverty, regardless of their academic needs. Schoolwide programs, on the other hand, in theory were designed to lift all students’ achievement. As Senator Edward Kennedy’s (D-MA) aide, Laura Chow, explained,

We see [portability] as certainly a strategy or method that undermines whole school reform…It would not really contribute to public school reform, whole school reform. It would tie dollars to a child’s family poverty level as opposed to their academic needs. For example, Title I, certainly dollars are generated by poverty, but Title I services are for academic needs. So there’s a disconnect if you say it’s only based on poverty.62

An aide to Senator Christopher Dodd’s (D-CT) agreed that portability could diminish the effectiveness of whole-school reform. Estimating that the average per-pupil entitlement might be $650, she noted, “It takes away from the leverage that that $650 has when you take all of it for every student to put it toward a schoolwide program, or a comprehensive school reform program, or anything that’s going to have economies of scale within a school.”63

The implications for schools that could use funds for whole-school enrichment were considerable. Running a schoolwide program in practice involves a great deal of careful planning. If a school anticipates that in the fall it will have 60% of students in poverty to use funds schoolwide, and then suddenly a segment of parents remove their kids, a sudden shift in the threshold might make the school ineligible.

Early on, in November 1999, it was clear that Senator James Jeffords (then R-VT), the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee chair, was not going to support portability. His aide, Susan Hattan, noted that one major problem was how all Title I-eligible students nationally would be served when all students were not being served now: field

The difficulty I see with the portability concept is that in the absence of full funding for Title I, it’s very difficult to structure a program that works, ‘cause you’re not covering all eligible kids now. So when you talk about a portable entitlement, that means if you’re entitled, you get a per-capita entitlement. Even if you do divvy it up, you’ve gotten down to a small amount. I don’t know what it does to schoolwides...I think it puts a dent in that. So they’re a lot of things, if it’s a good idea or not, and how do you make it work?64

A major Democratic concern was that once funds were dispersed among so many service providers, it would become very difficult for the federal government to ensure that there was accountability for Title I students’ achievement. Michele Stockwell, aide to Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), noted that “if a child is going a significant number of hours to a private tutor or a Sylvan Learning Center, there’s no accountability on those entities. You have no assurance that that entity is going to raise student achievement and we would say that there should be accountability put on those entities if that’s the way that you’re going to do it.”65

Democrats’ strongest criticism was that the value that compensatory policy has historically supported is equity. Concentration of limited dollars to the neediest districts was one of the most deliberate changes to the law that the Clinton administration had fought for and won in Congress in the 1994 reauthorization. The minority view of the Senate Committee report expressed this concern:

Title I grants have been historically concentrated on higher poverty schools, and they should continue to be targeted this way if they are going to address the greatest needs. If Title I funds are dispersed among public schools regardless of need, or to numerous private outside providers, the program will not be able to function as intended. The solution to ensure that all eligible children are served by Title I is not an unworkable portability scheme, but for Congress to fully fund Title I.66

From the perspective of conservative groups, however, Senator Gregg’s pilot program alternative did not go far enough toward privatization in Title I because the money could not be spent on private school tuition. Said Nina Rees, then a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, “When people called it a voucher, to most of us, this was not the vouchers that we always advocated for.”67 Still, she conceded, Gregg’s aides had moved cautiously for a reason. That reason was to eventually find loopholes for privatization. Gregg’s staff, she said, “believes that coming up with loopholes or ways to go around the system, by attaching the money still on the back of the child, opens the door for you then to come back later and argue for sending it also to private schools.”68

Democratic aides claimed that that was the policy intent behind Gregg’s proposal. Said an aide to Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), who preferred that her name not be used, “It’s a school choice option, and it’s very much like a voucher. Now Republicans will argue, and did argue through the markup, that it is not a voucher. But that is not how the Democrats perceived it.”69

Senator Gregg emphasized that what he wanted to achieve through portability was the greater engagement of parents. He emphasized the right of parents to take their children’s Title I allocation, if they were unhappy with the kind of instruction provided by the school, and to choose another educational service provider. Gregg even acknowledged in his floor statement that the policy might hurt the implementation of schoolwide programs, but he maintained that the proposal was going to benefit low-income students by tying purchasing power to them. Moreover, he defended portability as a policy that each participating state or LEA would choose to embrace because they would see it as meeting their educational needs.70

Thus, the divisions between the two parties’ positions on private school choice remained quite marked throughout the ESEA debate in the 106th Congress. The 106th Congress was the arena in which the Republican Party put expansion of choice and privatization onto the legislative agenda for the first time in almost 20 years. A combination of interest groups and think tanks, the Clinton administration, and individual members like Gregg and Petri helped to define the range of acceptable alternatives. The election of George W. Bush as president altered the terms on which the 107th Congress would debate both vouchers and education policy as a whole.


It was during the 107th Congress and President George W. Bush’s successful passage of the No Child Left Behind Education Act that the existence of vouchers in the proposed bill exerted a tremendous weight on the process of bargaining and negotiation between the two parties. Republicans saw from the outset that Democrats would reject the proposal and that gave them leverage in other policy areas. This removal of private school vouchers from Title I shaped the Democrats’ eventual compromise on supplemental services, which allowed federal dollars to be used by parents to purchase tutorial services from non-school-based providers, including religious groups and private companies. It also meant pressure on Democrats to support other White House provisions, like annual testing in grades three through eight. As Undersecretary of Education Eugene Hickok said, the president and his appointed negotiator on the education bill, Sandy Kress, did not wish “to sacrifice accountability on the altar of school choice.”71 When vouchers for private schools in Title I dropped out of the negotiations, it became apparent that there was room for bipartisan compromise on the bill as a whole. While members of the GOP leadership like Majority Leader Richard Armey continued to introduce voucher bills on the floor, the President himself was willing to forgo vouchers in order to get a bipartisan education bill faster.

Before turning to the events of the 107th Congress’s debate, it is important to note briefly three factors about differences in the composition and leadership of the 106th and 107th Congresses. The first is that the overall composition of the Congress did not change dramatically: although the Republicans still controlled both the House and Senate following the 2000 elections, the margin of that control was narrowed by two votes. The second fact is that following the switch of Senator James Jeffords of Vermont from the Republican party to Independent status in May 2001, the Democratic party gained control of the Senate from May 2001 through January 2003. Thus, Democrats held narrow control of the Senate during the period of many of the congressional negotiations over the No Child Left Behind Act. The new chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee was Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), and Judd Gregg (R-NH) was now the ranking member. Finally, it is important to note that the chairmanship of the House Education and Workforce committee shifted between the two Congresses. Rep. William F. Goodling (R-PA), the committee’s longtime chair, retired and was replaced by Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). Boehner, who represented a suburban Ohio district and was elected to Congress in 1994, was one of the freshmen who supported Gingrich’s Contract with America—including the proposal to shut down the U.S. Department of Education. In spite of his conservative record in education, Boehner would nonetheless demonstrate his willingness to compromise with Democrats.


Private school choice and vouchers were central to Bush’s articulated philosophy: Parents ought to have a choice in pulling students out of chronically failing schools. In Texas, Bush as governor had advocated vouchers in the 1999 legislative session; they were a top policy priority for the state’s Christian Coalition. He did not fight for them energetically, however, and was unable to persuade one key Republican representative from blocking the movement of the bill to the floor.72 Thus, when he proposed vouchers as part of the No Child Left Behind, Congressional Democrats were cognizant that President Bush might be willing to walk away from that part of the package, and they fought it from the first day he proposed it.

On the campaign trail, Bush had proposed that parents of students in failing schools be eligible to receive a voucher of $1,500 to enroll their children at other schools, including private and parochial. In his introduction of the No Child Left Behind plan, Bush advocated for vouchers as part of a set of options for parents when schools failed, although he avoided the use of the term vouchers:

In order for an accountability system to work, there [have] to be consequences, and I believe one of the most important consequences will be, after a period of time, giving the schools time to adjust and districts time to try different things, if they’re failing, that parents ought to be given different options. If children are trapped in schools that will not teach and will not change, there has to be a different consequence.73

In his State of the Union address in January 2001, Bush mentioned vouchers as one of his goals for the bill, but he did not say that he would veto an education bill that did not include them.74 Sally Lovejoy, senior education aide to the Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said that many House Republicans wanted the president to fight harder for vouchers than he did:

The party leadership wasn’t always on board with the President, particularly on testing. And then particularly when the President dropped vouchers so quickly that really made a lot of conservative Republicans upset. We didn’t have the votes, in the committee or in the House, to pass vouchers. We’ve been there, done that before. But I think a lot of Republicans felt that the Administration dropped that like a hot potato and didn’t push harder for it.75

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s debate over vouchers in Title I in May 2001 was both partisan and rancorous. Republicans argued that vouchers were the only way for disadvantaged children to escape failing schools, while Democrats countered that vouchers would squander valuable resources and that the monies available were insufficient to help the students. Chairman John Boehner said, “We build ships with lifeboats, but we don’t give kids a way out of dangerous, poor-performing schools.”76 Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-CA) compared vouchers as a way to help ailing schools to medieval doctors’ use of blood-sucking leeches to treat illness. Other Republicans, like Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-CO), emphasized partisan loyalty to the president: “Don’t abandon President Bush. Don’t leave the reservation.”77 To the committee’s most conservative Republicans, the increased testing provisions minus vouchers meant that the heart of the bill was weak and meaningless. As Rep. Schaffer said, “Without the ability to exercise real accountability, real choice, this testing is nonsense.”78

But Chairman Boehner also knew he needed Democratic votes. As Congressional Quarterly summed up his problem, there was “nothing easy about steering a bill through the House with conservative Republicans unhappy and liberal Democrats looking for a good reason to bolt.”79 Many of the conservative Republicans were opposed to President Bush’s proposed annual testing requirements for all students in grades three through eight. Rep. George Miller’s (D-CA) amendment in committee removed language that would have required schools to offer parents vouchers for an amount equal to the district’s per-child Title I funding (about $600 nationally on average) that could be used at private schools. It also stripped out the supplemental services option after a year in corrective action status, provisions authorizing grants for local private school voucher programs, and districts’ ability to use funds under the Title VI block grants to expand private school choice for disadvantaged students in failing schools.80 The committee vote on the Miller amendment was 27–20, with five Republicans joining all the Democrats and one voting “present” to pass it.81 For committee Democrats, this vote was the key to their continued support, as the Democrats’ “Additional Views to HR1” made clear:

While the bill as introduced included numerous provisions allowing private school vouchers, including the voucherizing of Title I, the Committee, on a bipartisan basis with the support of five Republican members, was successful in striking these provisions from the bill. This vote, in addition to the absence of Straight A’s [the block-grant proposal] from the legislation, made it possible for us to support HR1 on final passage.82

President Bush acknowledged that the House committee’s action meant that vouchers would not become part of the final bill. As he had in the Texas legislature in 1999, he conceded the issue without a fight, stating in an interview, “There are people that are afraid of choice. I’m a realist. I understand that. It doesn’t change my opinion, but it’s not going to change the votes, either.”83

President Bush had moved to the center on vouchers more quickly than had the GOP leadership in the House, which, in Kingdon’s terms, widened the range of Republicans’ acceptable alternatives.84 On the House floor, Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX) offered two voucher amendments, exact repeats of the ones he had offered in the 106th Congress. These were the Unsafe and Failing Schools amendment, with the $1,500 voucher for families and a pilot voucher program. Both were defeated. It is notable that the margin of defeat for Armey’s Unsafe and Failing Schools amendment was larger than in the previous Congress; it was defeated 273–155, as compared with 257–166 in the 106th, signaling that even fewer members of the Republican party were supportive despite the White House’s voucher proposals. The final vote on the bill was 384–45, with Republicans constituting three-quarters of the No votes. Thus, the key to passage in the House was defeating Armey’s amendments to the committee-approved bill, which did not contain vouchers. Rep. George Miller said that he and other Democrats had been able to fight off the “extreme provisions” of the bill, such as vouchers.85

The teachers’ unions were vociferous in their opposition to the voucher provisions in the White House’s blueprint for the legislation. Kara Haas, an aide to moderate Republican Rep. Michael Castle (R-Delaware), described how the National Education Association was quite clear from the outset about its opposition to choice: “We met with [the NEA] early on—as soon as the President’s plan was released. Private school choice particularly existed in seven different areas. We went through the list, and we said, ‘What about this? Could you do this?’ And they just said, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’”86 Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, confirmed that, consistent with the union’s traditional position, “vouchers were quite unacceptable to us.”87

In the Senate, the main political difference was the strategy of Senator Judd Gregg. Though vouchers were not approved in the committee process, he sought to add voucher provisions to the bill on the floor. There he proposed an amendment that would have authorized $50 million per year to fund private school choice initiatives in10 school districts in three states that applied for the money. Attempting to meet voucher critics’ objections, Gregg and his staff designed the proposal so that only children in schools that had been low-performing for three years would be eligible, and their family income would have to have been less than $32,000 per year. The dollars allocated to fund the demonstration program would not be diverted from the public school system because a new program would be created.88

Senator Gregg’s amendment failed 41–58 and did not fall neatly along party lines, with three Democrats voting in favor and 11 Republicans opposing it. (The three Democrats were Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Thomas Carper of Delaware, and Robert Byrd of West Virginia.) Gregg vocally blamed the Democrats. “What is it they fear?” he asked. “They fear that it may threaten those unions who for years have told us mediocrity works. They fear that this may actually disrupt the public school system”89 While many conservative Republicans shared Gregg’s view that true accountability necessitated parental choice that included the private sector, there were several dissenters among that group. One was Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee member Mike Enzi (R-WY). According to his education aide, Amanda Ferris, Senator Enzi was “also very concerned about a federal voucher program changing the focus of education to the federal level. If you institute a federal voucher program, that is the federal government really being the impetus behind educational reform. And that’s not something he’s comfortable with.”90 Gregg’s strategy of creating a voucher demonstration program separate from Title I revealed that Republicans were increasingly prepared to counter Democratic opponents’ charges that voucher monies would take federal resources away from poor kids. The amendment’s narrow margin of defeat shows that it is a probable Republican strategy in future Congresses.

The privatization measure on which Republicans did get Democrats to compromise, however, was supplemental educational services, which was identical to Senator Gregg’s proposal in the 106th Congress. Supplemental services were specified as academic instruction, available to students in Title I schools not showing improvement for three consecutive years. The statute says that local school districts “shall arrange for the provision of supplemental services to eligible children in the school that is selected by the parents and approved for that purpose by the State educational agency.”91 The provider may be a for-profit or a nonprofit entity, including religious organizations, or a local educational agency. It could provide tutoring and other academic interventions, such as after-school enrichment, as long as it “has a demonstrated record of effectiveness in increasing student academic achievement” and “is capable of providing supplemental educational services that are consistent with the educational program” of the local district.92 The requirement applying to all supplemental services was that they had to be provided outside the regular school day. The Republicans needed to have the equivalent of the parent making the choice, as Bush had initially proposed, so offering parents a choice to purchase tutorial services was the compromise. As described earlier, in the 106th Congress, Sen. Gregg’s staff had secured Tuition Assistance Grants (TAGs), which allowed parents to purchase tutorial services from private providers within the Reading Excellence Act. The success with TAGs made it easier for Gregg to argue that supplemental services were an extension of a similar concept.

Kennedy’s position on supplemental services shifted during the process. Initially, in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, when Gregg first introduced his portability amendment allowing children in failing schools to use Title I dollars to transfer to a private school or for tutorial services, Kennedy opposed him: “Title I has been targeted on poverty, not on individual students, on the concentration of poverty.”93 In March, however, he began to negotiate not only with the White House, but with two New Democratic Senators who were touting their education plan, Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Evan Bayh (D-IN). Bayh supported vouchers. As a result of this “triangulation” among the White House, the New Democrats, and Senate Republicans like Gregg, Kennedy realized that he could drop his opposition to supplemental services and convince the liberal HELP committee Senate Democrats that this was an acceptable compromise. An appropriate compromise, he maintained, was that the state would approve the institutions eligible to be service providers. So long as the legislation was clear about what entity provided them and who chose them, this was fair. The providers could be nonprofits, including faith-based groups, for-profit entities, school districts, public or private schools, and colleges and universities. Districts would have to give priority to the lowest-achieving students, and only low-income families in identified-low-performing schools would be eligible.

While the measure was far from what many conservative Republicans had wanted, both parties found something compatible with their ideological stances with supplemental services. Sally Lovejoy, Boehner’s chief education staffer on the House Education and the Workforce committee, recalled telling members who were disappointed about losing vouchers, “You know what you’re getting with supplemental services is a huge deal. For the first time we’ll have federal dollars paying for private services. Even in Catholic schools, for the summer or for tutoring.” She continued, “That’s a huge issue, and I just think because they didn’t get vouchers, they thought that was nothing.”94 For other Republicans, getting supplemental services in place was a strategy for more privatization measures in future reauthorizations. Mike Kennedy, an education aide to House education committee member Thomas Petri (R-WI), said, “At least this time we were able to get supplemental services. That was a big victory…hopefully, that’s the camel’s nose under the tent, six years from now they can maybe expand it…it’s at least a start, a precedent maybe six years from now, upping the amount of money…that’s one of the best things in the bill, really.”95 Likewise, Judd Gregg saw another advantage to supplemental services. As one aide who preferred anonymity recalled about a meeting with Republican Senate committee members right before the committee voted, “Gregg is explaining why they should vote for the bill . . . and he said, ‘Well, the supplemental services are a foot under the door for vouchers. They’re going to show that these schools aren’t working properly, and we’ll finally be able to show that the schools aren’t doing well. The assessments are going to prove the same thing.’”96

While some Democrats were upset about the use of public money at private or religious entities, many found it consistent with their views of accountability. Charles Barone, Representative George Miller’s (D-CA) legislative director, noted that Head Start was set up for some contracting out of services, as was the America Reads program, so this was not a massive difference from what other programs allowed. Democrats negotiated a 15% cap on the amount of Title I dollars that a district could use to pay for supplemental services. (The law mandated that a district spend a minimum 5% of its Title I allocation to pay for the services if they were needed.) Barone emphasized that there were numerous checks on the privatization:

It could be the district taking over services. There’s nothing that says that you have to have Sylvan and these other people in…you have to give parents some choice…It’s a little fuzzy. It’s definitely the intention of the people who pushed it to have Sylvan or Kaplan or these other people come in.”97

He emphasized that the implementation would vary by locale, and that the law gives states the ability to leave private providers off the approved list.

Another reason that most Democrats did not object to supplemental services is that they viewed the distribution of the dollars as being within the control of the public system. Local educational agencies have veto power over the providers and, as Barone noted, an LEA may itself become the service provider. Barone said that “[Rep.] Miller doesn’t have a problem with a school contracting for services with a private entity, as long as the money stays in the public school system, and they oversee the money.”98

The Democrats were also successful in getting civil rights provisions included to ensure that independent service providers could not discriminate against either employees or students on the basis of their religion. Thus, it became an acceptable alternative.

As in the 106th Congress, private school vouchers were not a passable provision because of the suburban and rural Republicans who would not vote with the party leadership, and because of the influence of a Republican president who indicated that he would not sacrifice the bill over vouchers. The expansion of supplemental services, however, meant that parents would be able to use some of their Title I allocation to purchase outside instructional services, including from church-affiliated groups and large companies such as Sylvan Learning Centers and Kaplan Testing. The accountability measures mandating public school choice after a school was identified as not making adequate progress had bipartisan support, as they did in the 106th. Both of these provisions were built into the sanctions of the bill’s accountability system and were designed to apply pressure to low-performing schools. The supplemental services provision was a classic legislative compromise, a way for the Republicans to succeed at gaining some measure of control and accountability in the hands of parents. It should also be viewed as a strong legislative precedent for voucherlike provisions in Title I and other federal programs in the future.


The issue of choice in Title I reveals political divisions in Congress in education policy, but divisions that proved fluid as President Bush successfully pushed for a centrist education bill. In the 106th Congress, moderate House Democrats accepted language that enhanced parental rights for public school choice, and moderate House Republicans successfully reined in maneuvers to move toward portability that would allow dollars to flow to private schools. The chief contention of portability’s advocates was that federal programs had led to bloated bureaucracies that did not serve the intended beneficiaries: economically disadvantaged students. However, different advocates for portability had differing political and policy-related objectives. Some, like Senator Gregg, saw it as a means to empower parents and create incentives for failing schools to improve; others saw it as a means to allow a foothold for future privatization measures. Still others saw it as a strategy to make the administration of the program more efficient. While the supporters’ purposes were diverse, it is notable that the political discourse did not address how, precisely, portability and supplemental services would improve instruction in Title I. Further, as the interviews with aides revealed, there is not clarity about the implementation of supplemental services—that is, what the provisions will mean for the day-to-day operation of Title I schools. During 1999 and 2000, the Fordham Foundation and the Heritage Foundation were successful at defining what they saw as the problem with Title I and getting a policy alternative, portability, onto the legislative agenda via Republican committee staff members. The coherence of these organizations’ message, in addition to the access to congressional education staff they enjoyed, were major reasons that portability and supplemental services made it onto the legislative agenda for the reauthorization.

In the 107th Congress, President Bush’s withdrawal of his private school voucher proposals became essential in order to win Democrats’ support for the No Child Left Behind Act. This was a significant marker in the Republican Party’s current involvement in federal education policy. It signaled that Bush was willing to stand up to the most conservative elements in his party in order to pass a sweeping bill affecting the nation’s elementary and secondary schools and standing as his major piece of domestic legislation. President Bush followed the same political pattern while governor of Texas: advocating vouchers to appease the conservative wing of the Texas Christian Coalition, but then backing down when confronted with Democratic opposition in the legislature. When the White House backed away from its voucher proposal, it cleared the way for Democrats, such as Senator Kennedy, to support the limited privatization measure of “supplemental services.” President Bush did not enjoy the universal support of his party on the final vote on No Child Left Behind, however: three-quarters of the No votes in the House were conservative Republicans. On the issues of testing and vouchers, Bush had moved too far to the center for the GOP’s right wing. On the other hand, many Republicans who had been strong voucher advocates, such as Senator Gregg and Representative Petri, loyally delivered the president their votes, a mark of the partisanship that enabled the No Child Left Behind Act’s passage.

As a result of key Democrats like Sen. Kennedy and Rep. Miller being willing to support the supplemental services provisions, the accountability mechanisms in Title I have changed substantially. Parents of students in those schools not making “adequate yearly progress” under the state’s definition will be allowed to take a per-pupil allocation and purchase instructional services from a state-approved independent service provider, which could be public or private. There are numerous questions about what effects these provisions will be have on Title I students’ achievement and on incentives for low-performing schools to improve. As the interviews with aides demonstrated, their questions about effects of such services on student achievement and school organization went unanswered in both Congresses, and relevant research was not introduced into the deliberations. States are required in the law to conduct evaluations of the implementation of supplemental services.

Despite this legislative provision, it is notable that in both Congresses, the enthusiasm for overhaul and reform in Title I was not matched by the Republican votes necessary to allow public dollars to flow to private schools in the form of tuition vouchers. I have offered an electoral hypothesis: that Republican members during this time period were increasingly aware of poll numbers showing that a majority of voters in Michigan and California were not supportive of ballot initiatives that would have allowed sending public money to private schools. The GOP members correctly perceived that passing legislation on such a highly ideologically charged issue had the potential to disrupt their constituencies, a large component of which is suburban and largely content with the quality of their public schools. The issue of choice shows the limits of the GOP leadership’s ability to marshal all its members to vote as a bloc on a key ideological education issue, at least in these Congresses that preceded the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision. That the GOP leadership was successful in passing a measure within the No Child Left Behind Act that allows Title I dollars to flow from schools to selected private-sector service providers, however, is a legislative action that is unprecedented in the history of the ESEA. It is a subject for future policy analysis precisely how and whether this provision is modified or expanded into a larger choice initiative, permitting federal dollars to flow to private and/or parochial schools in the next ESEA reauthorization.

If support is rising among poor and minority parents for vouchers, why has this support not translated into Democratic votes in Congress? Scholars such as Jim Carl have documented the support of low-income minority families for vouchers, for instance, in Milwaukee.99 In 1997, 72% of African Americans favored the right to choose a private school “at government expense,” compared with 48% of the general population.100 New national interest groups, such as the Black Alliance for Educational Options, has challenged what its leaders see as the “disconnect” between national civil rights leaders and Congressional Democrats and their constituents. Most members of the congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses oppose vouchers; the support of a minority Democrat such as Floyd Flake (D-NY) is rare. Until the present, the stance of teacher unions against vouchers is so strong that all but the most conservative Democrats experience that as the stronger electoral pressure in their districts. Terry Moe argued that this picture is bound to change if national civil rights leadership switches sides:

It appears that this era of lock-step Democratic compliance cannot last much longer. For many Democrats, just as for many activists in the civil rights movement, opposition to targeted voucher programs has put them in an uncomfortable position: their own constituents are often disadvantaged and strong supporters of vouchers. At the mass level, vouchers could very easily be a Democratic issue, but Democratic politicians have not been able to treat it that way. Were it not for the unions, many Democrats, especially those representing inner-city areas, would simply line up with their own constituents.101

In predicting such a shift, however, Moe made the assumption that national civil rights leaders will abandon the rationale for rejecting vouchers: that they drain scarce state and federal dollars from the public schools. Given the likelihood of continued cuts to social programs, it is unlikely that either Democratic members of Congress or national civil rights leaders will readily change their votes or their public stances on vouchers.

The Zelman decision in June 2002, by changing the constitutional standard, signifies that there will be shifts in political dynamics in future Congresses. Before the next reauthorization process of the ESEA, a great deal of the legislative activity on voucher proposals will originate at the state level. In April 2003, for instance, the Colorado legislature passed a voucher proposal.102 (A state judge has since issued an injunction barring the law from taking effect, saying it violates a section of the state constitution requiring local school boards to maintain significant control over funding of district schools.103) In 37 states’ constitutions, amendments prohibiting public dollars from flowing to private religious entities present a legal barrier to voucher legislation. What is clear is that state-level legislative and interest-group activity on vouchers will define the public mood, which in turn will affect the perceptions of members of Congress.

While the reasons for the passage of a voucher bill in January 2004 in the 108th Congress are the subject for a separate article, it is worth considering some of the reasons that it passed when the efforts to enact vouchers as part of Title I failed. I offer three major reasons. First, the process by which it was passed made it less visible to the public and bypassed Democratic threats of a filibuster. It was passed during the conference process resolving differences between omnibus spending bills passed by the House and Senate. The second reason is that there is practically zero electoral risk for Republicans—or Democrats, for that matter—to support a pilot program in the District of Columbia because it has no electoral representation. While city leaders themselves are divided over the issue (Mayor Anthony Williams supported it while many members of the school board and council opposed it104), the electoral process enabled President Bush and the Republicans in Congress to enact a program with minimal electoral risk, high political salience to the party, and only a moderate level of national visibility. The third reason draws on Terry Moe’s explanation about the likely strategy of voucher proponents in the future, the targeting of voucher programs to high-minority, high-poverty, and chronically low-achieving districts. The terms of the D.C. plan are that priority is given to students in schools defined as underachieving under the No Child Left Behind Act. Such a targeted program is far less likely to concern the electorate—particularly many Republicans’ suburban, affluent small-town or rural constituents—than a voucher provision passed as part of the broad-scale Title I program, which could affect funding in many schools and school districts.

This analysis of recent congressional action has shown that advocates of vouchers, such as Sen. Judd Gregg, had begun by the 107th Congress to adopt a political strategy of proposing voucher plans separate from Title I, not part of it (i.e., new programs). The 108th Congress’s approval of the limited D.C. voucher plan is indicative that this is the kind of voucher plan most likely to be proposed in future Congresses. Terry Moe suggested that support for vouchers will emanate from a broad-based political constituency that favors incremental change, programs targeted to high-poverty districts, and fairly heavy regulation. His data show that Americans are largely risk averse about privatization and favor heavy regulation of private school vouchers. As with voucher initiatives in the states, Congressional action will continue to be dependent on the “electoral connection.” Richard Kahlenberg wrote that it is possible that the views of the electorate may increasingly converge in the center on choice. That is, conservatives will increasingly concede to regulate voucher plans more heavily, while more liberals will embrace a form of public school choice that makes public schools a little more like private schools.105 If public sentiment hovers toward the center, then legislators will eventually respond accordingly.

Officials in the Bush Education Department have publicly stated that over time, the No Child Left Behind Act’s supplemental services provisions could become part of a larger choice strategy. In July 2002, for instance, Undersecretary of Education Eugene Hickok stated that the Supreme Court ruling “does not have a significant impact in terms of where we are” with the “new education bill.” But he added, “Somewhere down the road, I think it might as school choice and supplemental services become a bigger part of the puzzle.”106 Following the passage of the D.C. pilot voucher program in January 2004, Secretary of Education Rod Paige called on states and districts to adopt private school choice strategies.107 Moreover, Secretary Paige has used the Fund for Innovation in Education, the main pot of discretionary federal education dollars whose use does not need to be approved by Congress, to channel $77 million to a handful of proeducational privatization advocacy groups, including the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Hispanic CREO, and the Education Leaders’ Council.108 This is undeniably a significant sum of money aimed at strengthening and amplifying the voices of voucher advocates whose activities likely will include congressional lobbying with the goal of changing the votes of Republicans and Democrats alike.

The Republican Party, on the other hand, having taken the credit for passed No Child Left Behind, may find itself in a contradictory position with respect to the issue of vouchers. That is, the tightened testing and accountability regulations purportedly aimed at reforming the public schools are at odds philosophically with the conservative right’s rhetoric of deregulation and decentralization.109

In Kingdon’s framework, the “alternatives” of supplemental services adopted in legislation in the 107th Congress, when combined with the altered political circumstances created by the Supreme Court ruling, may create an opening for private school vouchers in Title I in future Congresses. At the very least, the two parties’ political positions on educational choice are likely to shift in unpredictable ways. The Washington interest groups advocating vouchers have become more numerous, and their state-level activities more focused in the wake of Zelman. The congressional passage of both the District of Columbia pilot voucher program in 2004 and the Hurricane Emergency Relief Act in 2005 demonstrate that votes in favor of a limited, targeted pilot voucher program—especially one serving a high-poverty district—are significantly less controversial than those approving vouchers as part of the accountability measures in Title I, the effects of which would be far more pervasive. In the final analysis, a vote in favor of a limited, targeted pilot voucher program in a high-poverty district is significantly less controversial than a vote approving vouchers as part of the accountability measures in Title I, the effects of which would be far more pervasive.110

The author acknowledges with gratitude financial support from the Spencer Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, through the Advanced Studies Fellowship Program at Brown University. The data presented, the statements made, and the views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author. The author also thanks Christopher Lubienski and four anonymous reviewers for comments on this article, and Christine Kiracofe for assistance with the tables.

Appendix A

Summary of Votes on Measures for Choice and Privatization in Title I in the ESEA Reauthorization Process in the 106th and 107th Congresses

106th Congress






Senate: 10-state pilot for supplemental services (Gregg’s “Child-Centered Education” amendment)

House: Portability proposal (Petri)

Both: Public School choice

10 states could apply to name service providers, both public and private, to accept per-capita Title I allocation to pay for tutoring to students in schools not making AYP

Students in schools not making AYP could take Title I allocation to a private or parochial school

Mandates parental right to transfer to school not in school improvement status





House: Portability

10-state pilot (Petri)

House: Pupil Safety and Family School Choice Act (Armey)

House: Academic Emergency Act (Armey)

House: Public School Choice

Scaled-down version of committee proposal

$1,500 vouchers to parents of students in “unsafe” schools

Gives $3,500 vouchers to parents in low-performing Title I schools

Parental right to transfer student out of school not making AYP for 18 months




Passed in HR1

Appendix A (Continued)

107th Congress






House: Miller amendment

Both: supplemental services

Both: public school choice

Strips all private school voucher provisions from the bill; strips provision requiring supplemental services after just one year of school in corrective action




Senate: 10-state voucher pilot program (Gregg)

House: Pupil Safety and Family School Choice Act (Armey)

Academic Emergency Act (Armey)

10 districts may apply for vouchers

see 106th

see 106th




Supplemental services for schools in second year of corrective action status and public school transfer provision for schools in second year of not making AYP are passed as part of Title I of No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Appendix B

House Republicans Voting Against Armey Pupil Safety and Family School Choice Act, October 1999 (all population data from the 2000 U.S. Census unless otherwise noted)



Home Post Office and Population

Barrett, Bill

Nebraska 3rd

Lexington, NE (pop = 10,001)

Bereuter, Doug

Nebraska 1st

Lincoln, NE (pop = 225,581)

Biggert, Judy

Illinois 3rd

Hinsdale, IL (pop = 17,940)

Bilbray, Brian

California 49th

Imperial Beach, CA (pop = 26,992)

Bilirakis, Michael

Florida 9th

Palm Harbor, FL (pop = 59,248)

Blunt, Roy

Missouri 7th

Bolivar, MO (pop = 9,143)

Boehlert, Sherwood

New York 23rd

New Hartford, NY (pop = 21,172)

Burr, Richard M.

North Carolina 5th

Winston-Salem, NC (pop = 185,776)

Castle, Michael N.

At Large

Wilmington, DE (pop = 72,664)

Chenoweth-Hage, Helen

Idaho 1st

Boise, ID (pop = 185,787)

Davis, Thomas M., III

Virginia 11th

Falls Church, VA (pop = 10,377)

Emerson, Jo Ann

Montana 8th

Cape Girardeau, MO (pop = 35,349)_

English, Phil

Pennsylvania 21st

Erie, PA (pop = 103,717)

Ganske, Greg

Iowa 4th

Des Moines, IA (pop = 198,682)

Gilman, Benjamin A.

New York 20th

Middletown, NY (pop = 25,388)

Goodlatte, Robert W.

Virginia 6th

Roanoke, VA (pop = 94,911)

Goodling, William F.

Pennsylvania 19th

Jacobus, PA (pop = 1,189)

Graham, Lindsey

South Carolina 3rd

Seneca, SC (pop = 7,793)

Greenwood, James C.

Pennsylvania 8th

Erwinna, PA (pop = 577)

Hobson, David L.

Ohio 7th

Springfield, OH (pop = 65,358)

Horn, Steve

California 38th

Long Beach, CA (pop = 461,522)

Hostettler, John

Indiana 8th

Blairsville, IN (pop = 3,595) *data from 1990

Houghton, Amo

New York 31st

Corning, NY (pop = 10,842)

Hulshof, Kenny

Montana 9th

Columbia, MO (pop = 84,531)

Hutchinson, Asa

Arizona 3rd

Fort Smith, AR (pop = 80,268)

Johnson, Nancy L.

Connecticut 6th

New Britain, CT (pop = 71,538)

Kelly, Sue

New York 19th

Katonah, NY (pop = 12,438), data from 1990

Kuykendall, Steven

California 36th

Rancho Palos, CA (pop = 41,145)

LaHood, Ray

Illinois 18th

Peoria, IL (pop = 112,936)

LaTourette, Steven

Ohio 19th

Madison Village, OH (pop = 2,921)

Leach, James A.

Iowa 1st

Davenport, IA (pop = 98,359)

Lewis, Jerry

California 40th

Redlands, CA (pop = 63,591)

McHugh, John M.

New York 24th

Pierrepont Manor, NY (pop = 110,943)

Moran, Dennis

Kansas 3rd

Lenexa, KS (pop = 40,238)

Ney, Robert W.

Ohio 18th

St. Clairsville, OH (pop = 5,057)

Paul, Ron

Texas 14th

Surfside Beach, TX (pop = 775)

Porter, John Edward

Illinois 10th

Wilmette, IL (pop = 27,651)

Quinn, Jack

New York 30th

Hamburg, NY (pop = 10,116)

Ramstad, Jim

Minnesota 3rd

Minnetonka, MN (pop = 51,301)

Regula, Ralph

Ohio 16th

Navarre, OH (pop = 1,440)

Roukema, Marge

New Jersey 5th

Ridgewood, NJ (pop = 24,936)

Saxton, Jim

New Jersey 3rd

Mount Holly, NJ (pop = 9,618)

Shimkus, John M.

Illinois 20th

Collinsville, IL (pop = 24,707)

Thune, John

At Large

Pierre, SD (pop = 13,876)

Walden, Greg

Oregon 2nd

Hood River, OR (pop = 5,831)

Whitfield, Edward

Kentucky 1st

Hopkinsville, KY (pop = 30,089)

Young, C. W. Bill

Florida 10th

Indian Rocks Beach, FL (5,169)


1 See David Mayhew, Congress: The Electoral Connection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974).

2 See Elizabeth H. DeBray, Politics, Ideology, and Education: Federal Policy During the Clinton and Bush Administrations, (New York: Teachers College Press, 2006).

3 Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002).

4 John Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1995), 116–17.

5 Ibid., 117.

6 Ibid., 118.

7 Ibid., 162.

8 Ibid., 165

9 Ibid.

10 See Kingdon, Agendas.

11 Robert Yin, Case Study Research: Design and Methods, vol. 5, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1994).

12 Sally Gray Lovejoy, Majority Staff of House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Taped session of the American Youth Policy Forum, Washington, D.C., Nov. 19, 1999.

13 See Diane Ravitch, “Student Performance: The National Agenda in Education,” in New Directions: Federal Education Policy in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Marci Kanstoroom and Chester E. Finn (Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 1999).

14 See DeBray, “The Failure of the 106th United States Congress.”

15 David E. Price, “Policy Making in Congressional Committees,” American Political Science Review 72 (June 1978): 545–74.

16 Kingdon, Agendas, 146.

17 U.S. Department of Education, Policy Guidance for Title I, Part A: Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Educational Agencies, Washington, DC, April 1996.

18 Rosemary Salomone, Equal Education Under Law: Legal Rights and Federal Policy in the Post-Brown Era (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 1986), 189.

19 For accounts of the politics of choice in Congress, see Jeffrey Henig, Rethinking School Choice: Limits of the Market Metaphor (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), and of the resurgence of choice as a public issue in the 1990s, see Henig, Rethinking School Choice, and Joseph Viteritti, Choosing Equality: School Choice, the Constitution, and Civil Society (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1999).

20 Jeanne Sweeney, “Voucher Case Expected to Have Little Impact on Federal Programs,” Title I Report (July 2002): 1.

21 Henig, Rethinking School Choice, 71–72.

22 Ibid., 72.

23 Viteritti, Choosing Equality, 88.

24 Henig, Rethinking School Choice, 92.

25 Viteritti, Choosing Equality, 88.

26 Ibid., 89.

27 Thad Hall, “Congress and School Vouchers,” Public School Choice Versus Private School Vouchers, ed. Richard Kahlenberg (New York: Century Foundation Press, 2003), 118.

28 Cited in Hall, “Congress and School Vouchers,” 118.

29 “One Billion Dollars for Ideas: Conservative Think Tanks in the 1990s”(Washington, DC: National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 1999), 17.

30 Kingdon, Agendas, 141.

31 Salomone, Equal Education, 189.

32 Diane Ravitch, “Student Performance: The National Agenda in Education,” in New Directions: Federal Education Policy in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Marci Kanstoroom and Chester E. Finn (Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 1999), 143.

33 Chester E. Finn, “Fixing Schools Without a Voucher Fight,” New York Times, January 13, 2001.

34 Jay Mathews, “Group Pushes for Vouchers,” Washington Post, December 19, 2000.

35 See, for instance, R. Kent Weaver, Ending Welfare as We Know It (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2000), 254–58.

36 Kingdon, Agendas, 23–24.

37 “Clinton Urges $250 Million to Lift Ailing Public Schools,” Associated Press Online, February 27, 2000.

38 Ibid.

39 Blob is an acronym for “bloated education bureaucracy.” See William J. Bennett, The Devaluing of America (New York: Summit Books, 1992), 44.

40 Denzel McGuire, Aide to Senate Subcommittee on Families and Children. Interview with author, Washington, D.C., November 19, 1999.

41 Sue Kirchoff and Andrew D. Beadle, “House Bill to Revamp Title I Still Faces Pile of Amendments,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly, October 9, 1999, 2377

42 “On the Air with Representative Tom Petri” (Transcript of Radio Show #638), Office of Hon. Representative Thomas Petri, October 27, 1999.

43 The Hon. Thomas Petri, “Support the Petri Amendment to Title I: Let the Money Follow the Child,” October 18, 1999.

44 Kirchoff and Beadle, “House Bill,” 2377.

45 Ibid.

46 Kara Haas, Aide to Rep. Michael Castle. Interview with author, Washington, D.C., October 30, 1999.

47 Kenneth J. Cooper, “Senate GOP Draws Lines on Education,” Washington Post, March 10, 2000.

48 “House Passes Title I Overhaul Bill Minus Vouchers and Broad Block Grants,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly, October 23, 1999, 2522.

49 Ibid.

50 Mark Hornbeck and Charlie Cain, “Backers Keep Up the Fight, Despite Polls,” Detroit News, November 3, 2000.

51 Martha Groves, “Voters Ready to Give Vouchers a Drubbing,” Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2000.

52 Ibid.

53 Jodi Wilgoren, “Vouchers’ Fate May Hinge on Name Alone,” New York Times, December 20, 2000.

54 Lowell Rose and Alec Gallup, “The 32nd Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” Phi Delta Kappan 82, no. 1 (2000): 41–57.

55 Ibid.

56 Terry Moe, Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2001), 380–81.

57 Erik Robelen, “Gregg Brings N.H. Ways to Chairmanship,” Education Week, January 8, 2003.

58 “The Child Centered Education Act” (Office of Hon. Senator Judd Gregg, 1999).

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

61 U.S. Congress, Senate, Educational Opportunities Act: Report of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, to Accompany S. 2, 106th Cong., 2nd sess., 2000, 114.

62 Laura Chow, aide to Senator Kennedy. Interview with author, Washington, D.C., March 31, 2000.

63 Unidentified aide to Sen. Christopher Dodd. Interview with author, Washington, D.C., March 28, 2000.

64 Susan Hattan, Majority Staff of Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Interview with author, Washington, D.C., November 22, 1999.

65 Michele Stockwell, aide to Senator Lieberman. Interview with author, Washington, D.C., March 30, 2000.

66 U.S. Congress, Senate, Educational Opportunities Act, 209.

67 Nina Shokraii Rees, Education Policy Analyst, The Heritage Foundation. Interview with author, Washington, D.C., October 20, 2000.

68 Ibid.

69 Unidentified aide to Senator Christopher Dodd. Interview with author, Washington, D.C., March 30, 2000.

70 The Hon. Senator Judd Gregg, Congressional Record, 106th Congress, 2d sess., May 3, 2000.

71 Eugene Hickok, Undersecretary of Education, quoted in Andrew Rudalevige, “Accountability and Avoidance in the Bush Education Plan: The ‘No Child Left Behind Act of 2001,’” paper presented at the Taking Account of the Accountability conference, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, June 10–11, 2002.

72 Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (New York: Random House, 2000), 78–79.

73 David E. Sanger, “Bush Pushes Ambitious Education Plan,” New York Times, January 24, 2001.

74 Rudalevige, “Accountability and Avoidance in the Bush Education Plan.”

75 Sally Gray Lovejoy, chief education aide to the Majority of the House Education and Workforce committee, interview with author, Washington, D.C., January 28, 2001.

76 Julie Miller, Michael Levin-Epstein, and Lynn Cutler, “Congress Moves Toward Bipartisan ESEA Bill,” Title I Report, May 2001, 10.

77 Ibid.

78 Rep. Schaeffer, quoted in Lizette Alvarez, “House Democrats Block Voucher Provision,” New York Times, May 3, 2001.

79 David Nather, “Education Bill Passes in House with Strong Bipartisan Support,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly, May 26, 2001, 1256.

80 Miller et al., “Congress Moves.”

81 The five Republicans on the House committee who joined with the Democrats were Judy Biggert (IL), Fred Upton (MI), Todd Platts (PA), Tom Osborne (NE), and Marge Roukema (NJ). Michael Castle (DE) voted “present.”

82 House Committee on Education and the Workforce, “Additional Views to HR1,” United States House of Representatives, May 14, 2001, http://edworkforce.house.gov/democrats/hr1views.html (accessed January 14, 2002).

83 President George Bush, quoted in Alvarez, “House Democrats Block Voucher Provision.”

84 Kingdon, Agendas, 142–44.

85 Lisa Fine, “ESEA, Minus Vouchers, Easily Passes House,” Education Week, May 30, 2001, 24.

86 Kara Haas, Aide to Rep. Michael Castle, Interview with author, Washington, D.C., February 1, 2002.

87 Joel Packer, legislative director for the National Education Association, interview with author, March 1, 2002.

88 Julie A. Miller, “Senate Passes ESEA Bill,” Title I Report, June 2001.

89 Lizette Alvarez, “Senate Rejects Tuition Aid, a Key to Bush Education Plan,” New York Times, June 13, 2001.

90 Amanda Ferris, education aide to Sen. Mike Enzi, Interview with author, Washington, D.C., January 30, 2002.

91 No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Public Law 107-110, 115 Stat., 1425 (2002), • 1116(e)(1).

92 No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Public Law 107-110, 115 Stat., 1425 (2002), • 1116 (e)(12)(B).

93 Diana Jean Schemo, “Senators Start Work on Bill to Require State Tests for Students,” New York Times, March 8, 2001.

94 Sally Gray Lovejoy, interview with author, January 28, 2002.

95 Michael Kennedy, education aide to Rep. Thomas Petri, interview with author, Washington, D.C., February 25, 2002.

96 Unidentified Senate aide, interview with author.

97 Charles Barone, legislative director for Rep. George Miller, interview with author, Washington, D.C., February 26, 2002.

98 Charles Barone, legislative director for Rep. George Miller, interview with author, Washington, D.C., February 26, 2002.

99 Jim Carl, “Unusual Allies: Elite and Grass-Roots Origins of Parental Choice in Milwaukee,” Teachers’ College Record 98, no. 2 (1996): 266–85.

100 Lowell C. Rose and others, “The Twenty-Ninth Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes toward the Public Schools,” Phi Delta Kappan (September 1997): 41–56.

101 Terry Moe, Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2001), 387.

102 Alan Richard, “Governor Owens Pledges to Sign Colorado Voucher Bill,” Education Week, April 9, 2003, 22.

103 “Americans United Lauds Decision Striking Down Colorado School Voucher Law,” Church and State, December 3, 2003, http://www.au.org (accessed March 20, 2004).

104 Caroline Hendrie, “Federal Plan for Vouchers Clears Senate,” Education Week, January 28, 2004, 28.

105 Richard Kahlenberg, ed., Public School Choice vs. Private School Vouchers (New York: Century Foundation Press, 2003), 174.

106 Eugene Hickok, quoted in Jeanne Sweeney, “Voucher Case Expected to Have Little Impact on Federal Programs,” Title I Report, July 2002, 15.

107 Hendrie, “Paige Calls for Wider Support of School Choice,” Education Week, February 4, 2004, 25.

108 Bill Moyers’ NOW, PBS, March 26, 2004.

109 Bruce Fuller, “Education Policy Under Cultural Pluralism,” Educational Researcher 32 no. 9 (2003): 15.

110 Elizabeth DeBray-Pelot, Christopher Lubienski, and Janelle Scott, “The Institutional Landscape of Interest Group Politics and School Choice,” Peabody Journal of Education, forthcoming.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 4, 2007, p. 927-972
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12874, Date Accessed: 5/28/2022 9:13:11 AM

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About the Author
  • Elizabeth DeBray
    University of Georgia
    E-mail Author
    ELIZABETH DEBRAY-PELOT is an assistant professor in the College of Education, University of Georgia, and a postdoctoral fellow in the Advanced Studies Fellowship Program at Brown University. Her research interests are the effects of federal and state education policies on elementary and secondary schools and the politics of education policy development, most recently in Congress.
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