"I don't want to save 1 or 2 percent of children and let 98 to 99 percent drown. We have to be much more ambitious than that. And we have to expect more," he added. "This is why I would argue ... rather than taking three kids out of there and putting them in a better school and feeling good and sleeping well at night, I want to turn that school around now and do that for those 400, 500, 800, 1,200 kids in that school, and give every child in that school, in that community, something better and do it with a real sense of urgency."
Those in favor of the program say that without the scholarships, children are left no choice but to attend under-performing public schools while they wait for Washington's schools to turn around. In the 2008-2009 school year, more than 1,700 students were enrolled in the scholarship program, costing the federal government roughly $12 million.
"Why do we want to trap these kids in schools that aren't working?" Spellings asked today.
Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and others have introduced bipartisan legislation to save the program for five additional years. And just Tuesday, longtime opponent Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., signaled he is open to supporting a reauthorization under certain conditions.
"I have to work with my colleagues if this is going to be reauthorized, which it might be," Durbin said during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, later adding that he understands "many students are getting a good education in the program."
Congress "has been slow to recognize that this has always been a bipartisan effort," Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, told ABC News.
Allen believes Democrats were quick to cancel the program because it was initiated under the previous, Republican, administration.
"They are cleaning house," she said.
At today's rally, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, urged the crowd to ramp up their calls for action.
"I am a big believer in giving options to all our children," he said. "We need to continue to organize and put pressure on Congress to support the D.C. voucher program."
Today, the advocacy group D.C. Parents for School Choice launched a quarter-million-dollar television ad campaign urging the president to call on Congress to reauthorize the program. The ad will run on national cable news networks.