This was a procedural vote on a resolution setting a time limit for debate and determining which amendments could be offered to legislation reinstituting a school voucher program in the District of Columbia that had been phased out in 2009. If passed, this particular procedural motion--known as the “previous question"--effectively ends debate and brings the pending legislation to an immediate vote. This school voucher program allowed low-income students in D.C. to receive subsidies for private school tuition. The measure had been enacted under Republican control of Congress during President George W. Bush’s administration in 2003. In 2009, the Democratic-controlled congress discontinued federal funding for the program. This vote took place in 2011, after Republicans had regained control of the House of Representatives.
Republicans generally supported school vouchers, contending that they provided low-income children with the opportunity to attend high-quality schools that they otherwise could not have afforded. Democrats generally opposed vouchers, arguing that using taxpayer funds for private schools drained money from the public school system.
In addition to funding school vouchers, the underlying bill also provided federal funds for D.C. public schools and charter schools. (Charter schools are publicly funded and do not charge tuition—but are not subject to all of the rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools.) Specifically, the measure provided $60 million per year for D.C. schools through 2016. Of the $60 million annual total, the bill provided $20 million for traditional public schools, $20 million for charter schools, and $20 million for school vouchers.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) urged support for the resolution and the underlying bill: “This bill is based on that concept of choice, opportunity, and options for people. It deserves our support because it is an opportunity. Call it an education app for Americans living in the District of Columbia. The most needy and deserving can actually have their choice of how they want their education to take place and it is done under the sphere of responsibility given to Congress by the Constitution.”
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) opposed the resolution and the underlying bill: “Whether it is gun rights, a woman's right to choose or education policy, the District [of Columbia] is not and should not be the dumping grounds for Republicans' ideological whims….The least they [the Republican majority] could do is allow them [D.C. residents] to control their education system just as every other jurisdiction in this country is able to do. The people of the District of Columbia did not ask for or want this program, nor were they or their elected officials consulted…” Hastings also argued: “According to legislatively mandated evaluations, the D.C. voucher program failed to show any statistically significant impact on student achievement.”
The House agreed to the previous question motion by a vote of 237-182. All 236 Republicans present and 1 Democrat voted “yea.” 182 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House proceeded to a final vote on a resolution setting a time limit for debate and determining which amendments could be offered to legislation reinstituting a school voucher program in the District of Columbia that had been phased out in 2009.