The school voucher plan for the District of Columbia that was tabled a couple of months ago in the Senate has been revived and will be rammed down everyone’s throat this week. This is how democracy works in your federal government.

GOP House and Senate negotiators have decided to put the vouchers provision – and the $5.6 billion 2004 District budget to which it is attached – into a larger federal budget bill that cannot be amended. That has set up a showdown in which the only way Democrats can block vouchers, or other controversial items in the broader spending bill, is to force a shutdown of many federal government operations.

What’s sad is that this particular procedure is not unusual. Members of Congress often bury controversial legislation, along with tons of pork, in larger bills, avoiding the embarrassment of having to go on the record for (or against) the issue at hand.

The voucher plan bothers me almost as much as the way it’s being legislated. But it’s not vouchers that’s the problem. If Congress (or more precisely the Republicans in Congress) really wants to test the theory that vouchers will improve education in DC then they need to come up with enough money to do it right instead of this penny-ante plan. On top of that, have the guts to mandate that the program include a statistically valid evaluation comparing the progress of students who move with those who stay behind. I want to see proof of the claim made by many voucher supporters that the competition will improve all public schools.