Why the GOP Abandoned School-Voucher Crusade

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Wait a minute ó is this still a Republican-controlled Congress? It didn't look that way Thursday after the House renewed Title I, the LBJ-era legislation that provides federal dollars to public schools, and expanded the program's annual budget from $7.7 billion to $9.9 billion. At the same time, the Republican leadership quietly quashed two proposed amendments that would provide for school vouchers. It's a long way from 1994, when the GOP got a lot of traction by saying we should spend less federal money on education and allow parents to choose where that money gets spent. When a high-profile 1996 government study concluded that increased localized federal spending didnít necessarily lead to improved performance in schools, Title I seemed doomed. But the new budget surplus means there's plenty of cash to go around, even for ambitious social programs. And with voters consistently ranking education as the most important topic in the presidential race, congressmen are suddenly eager to go back to school.

The House recently passed a series of bills that provide billions for teacher training and recruitment and give states greater flexibility in spending federal education dollars. And even though vouchers are Republican catnip, the programs became expendable once House leaders realized President Clinton was going to veto any bill with vouchers attached. Now, come Election Day, 435 representatives can report to constituents that they saved the education bill.