D.C. Voucher program gets another year. The House Appropriations Committee voted this Wednesday to reauthorize the use of federal funds for a controversial D.C. school vouchers program. The President initially opposed continuing federal funding for the program, but Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Joesph Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced a deal they reached with the White House, ensuring that student enrollment would not be capped and that parents of students in the program will be able to reapply for the next school year.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program provides vouchers for low-income students in the district to help pay for private school tuition. The program was started in 2004 by Congress, giving out $8000 each to about 1,600 students. A 2010 Department of Education study of the program’s first few years found that test scores of students who took the money were not significantly higher than those who remained in public school. As the Washington Post reported, Education Secretary Arne Duncan released a statement saying that the President and he are committed to the Opportunity Scholarship program, but would rather focus on fixing the D.C. Public School system at large.
Federal D.C. Budget passes with abortion rider. The district is set to take in $60 million for education this year from the federal government—equally divided between public schools, charter schools, and the voucher program. The House Appropriations Committee, however, voted to continue the ban on city money going to pay for abortions. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) pleaded with members of the committee to consider their position as members of congress, not representatives of the district. “It marginalizes the city and its residents and blatantly impedes on the District’s ability to self govern,” Lee said, according the Post. “No other city is told how to spend its locally raised revenue, so why should we force the District?” The provision has been attached to all federal funds going to the district for more than a decade, except during a brief stint in 2010 when Democrats controlled Congress. Although pro-choice champions such as D.C. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton say they intend to fight the prohibition, change of the bill is unlikely, given the makeup of the House of Representatives.
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As the University recently announced, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will be speaking at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute Tropaia awards ceremony next Friday. Although the awards event is not technically a “commencement” ceremony (since degrees will not be conferred), Sebelius was listed with the other commencement speakers in the University press-release. Sebelius is a staunch pro-choice advocate and championed reproductive rights issues in her term as governor of Kansas and, later, as HHS Secretary.
Prominent Catholics and conservative Catholic groups immediately criticized the University for its choice in Sebelius for graduation speaker. The Cardinal Newman Society has called the move a “direct challenge” to America’s Catholic bishops, and has created a website with a petition calling for Georgetown to revoke its invitation to the former governor. The petition has reportedly gathered 12,500 signatures.
One of the harshest challenges came from Princeton University’s Robert George, a man the New York Times called the United States’s “most influential conservative Christian thinker.” This past Sunday, on the Catholic Mirror of Justice blog, he wrote:
The left-liberals who run the show at Georgetown have found a way to signal to the world that the nation’s oldest Catholic, and most famous Jesuit, university stands with the Obama administration in its war (to use, if I recall correctly, Kathleen Sebelius’s own word) against the Catholic bishops and others who oppose the HHS mandate as a violation of religious freedom and the rights of conscience (you know, the enemies of women’s “reproductive health”). By honoring Secretary Sebelius, they can help to undermine the bishops’ credibility and blunt the force of their witness as leaders of the Catholic church.
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Your basic equation for a Georgetown controversy
Jill Stanek, a prominent pro-life activist and blogger, recently learned about Georgetown’s Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program, and she’s not pleased. The program’s summer newsletter highlighted the internship experiences members have had, including a couple students who worked at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Catholics for Choice.
Conservative Catholics usually react so enthusiastically whenever the phrases “Georgetown Law student” and “Planned Parenthood internship” are put together, so Stanek’s response should come as no surprise:
I don’t understand how open flouting of Catholic teaching is tolerated at an institution centered on Catholic teaching. More than that, this group is working to undermine Catholic teaching. It seems to me the Church has lost total control of the American Catholic educational system.
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You’d think that with the split-second notification Georgetown gave about President Obama’s speech, we would’ve been able to escape the wrath that militantly pro-life Catholics have heaped on Notre Dame for inviting him to be their commencement speaker. No such luck.
According to the Christian News Wire, D.C.-area pro-life activists will be protesting at the front gates tomorrow to “denounce Georgetown, who invited President Obama to speak, knowing the scandal and outrage surrounding his scheduled speech at Notre Dame on May 17.”
The announcement goes on to equate Obama’s women’s rights policies to Nazi Germany and say, “this sudden invite is as wicked as it is sneaky.”
Director of Media Relations Andy Pino, however, has a more benign explanation for the suddenness of the invitation. Pino wrote in an e-mail:
As with many high profile events that take place on campus, the details of the event came together over a short period of time. The announcement went out to the community as soon as logistics were confirmed.
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