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D.C. school vouchers are held up as a model

Emboldened by the creation of private-school vouchers in the District of Columbia, Education Secretary Rod Paige said Wednesday it is time for expanded choice for all parents who doubt the ability of their public schools.

Paige said the D.C. voucher program, the first of its kind to be supported by federal tax dollars, will offer "emancipation" to hundreds of poor and minority students. He said the program that gets under way in the fall will allow those students to "throw off the chains of a school system that has not served them well."

The $13-million plan creates vouchers for at least 1,700 poor students in the nation's capital, where 65,000 children attend public schools. The program requires that students gain admission to a school and pay any expenses not covered by their vouchers.

"This plan must be given every chance to work," Paige said.

"The future of our children is at stake, and it would be unconscionable to work against their best interests . . . and to actively labor to bring sabotage to this great program. I respectfully warn those in Congress and the District who ponder such continued political warfare that they are on the wrong side of history, and history will judge them so," Paige said.

Paige's comments reflect the latest push by the Bush administration to frame vouchers as a way to spur competition in a public educational "monopoly." Bush is proposing $50-million for voucher programs in other communities.