This was a vote on a motion to recommit that would have eliminated funding for a school voucher program in the District of Columbia. (This school voucher program allowed low-income students in D.C. to receive subsidies for private school tuition.) A motion to recommit with instructions is the minority's opportunity to torpedo or significantly change a bill before a final up-or-down vote on the measure. This motion to recommit was offered to legislation reinstituting a school voucher program in the District of Columbia that had been phased out in 2009.
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.
Specifically, this motion to recommit would have cut funding in the underlying bill from $300 million over five years to $150 million. The motion then required all of the remaining $150 million to be spent on traditional D.C. public schools, charter schools, and special education for children with learning, physical, or emotional disabilities. (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.)
(In addition to funding school vouchers, the underlying bill also provided federal funds for D.C. public schools and charter 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. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) urged support for this motion to recommit: “Voting for this motion will save $150 million over 5 years. So the question for my Republican colleagues is will you be true to your promises to address the deficit, or will you put these promises aside to support a pet project that advances a narrow ideological agenda? Second, instead of spending money on a miniscule fraction of students who would receive a voucher, this amendment would target scarce federal resources to areas where they would do the most good: D.C. public schools, charter schools, and special education…As we have discussed, students participating in the existing D.C. voucher program have shown no statistically significant improvement in reading or math skills. By contrast, students in the D.C. public schools and charter schools have shown significant gains over the last few years.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) opposed this motion to recommit: “This…[motion to recommit] in fact, not only denies the children who are in these programs today…but, in fact, it cuts funding for public education. Under this motion to recommit, the funding for public education on a yearly basis would go from $40 million to $20 million. There would be less money in the public school system, in addition to being no money for Opportunity Scholarships [school vouchers]. I oppose the motion to recommit and urge the support of the underlying bill.”
The House rejected this motion to recommit by a vote of 185-238. Voting “yea” were 185 Democrats. All 235 Republicans present and 3 Democrats voted “nay.” As a result, the House rejected a motion to recommit that would have eliminated funding for a school voucher program in the District of Columbia.