Wilson dad reflects on creation of DCTAG


Jon Bouker, Photo courtesy of Katherine Bouker

Anna Arnsberger

Even before having children, Jon Bouker played a critical role in supporting DC students. Presently a Wilson parent and partner at the law firm Arent Fox, he looks back fondly at his work to help write the DC Tuition Assistance Grant (DCTAG) bill, regarding it as one of the most exciting parts of his career.

With degrees from Georgetown University and the Georgetown University Law Center, Bouker is in his 30th year living in DC. His two children, Katherine, a sophomore at Wilson and Jon III, a seventh-grader at Alice Deal Middle School, are both native Washingtonians and DCPS students. Bouker and his wife, Kerrie, understand the value of public education, especially for DC students. “We have chosen to invest in DCPS by entrusting to it what is most precious to us: our children’s education,” Bouker said.

Previously serving 10 years as the chief counsel for Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Bouker aided in the creation of the DCTAG bill. “I helped the congresswoman negotiate and draft the bill, and since it passed back in the late ‘90s, thousands of kids from the District have gone to college all over the country,” Bouker said, priding himself on his work on DCTAG.

Now 19 years since DCTAG’s creation, the bill has more significance to Bouker than ever before. “DCTAG has taken on a new urgency for me, particularly as I have witnessed firsthand what it means to my daughter and her friends to have a more affordable option to go to college,” he said.

DCTAG provides District students with up to $10,000 per year to attend public colleges or universities in the U.S. and up to $2,500 for private DC colleges and historically Black colleges and universities.

The bill was a result of Norton’s idea that DC residents should be able to attend out-of-state colleges and universities at in-state costs. “Norton’s role as congresswoman has been to make sure that DC residents are treated fairly and equally because they are citizens of the United States like everybody else,” Bouker said. “Even in education she wanted to make sure that the District of Columbia had access to the same kind of… low-cost higher education systems that we would have if the District [was] a state.”

The District of Columbia does not have any form of public higher education system in the way that other states do to ensure that students can receive more affordable college tuition. For that reason, DCTAG is not only a significant education bill, but also a DC rights bill. “It was very important when we don’t yet have statehood…that we get as many of the components of statehood that we can, and having a robust proxy for a state education system certainly is a component, I think, of statehood,” Bouker said.

After Norton proposed the idea of sending students out of DC to receive a higher public education, she and her team, including Bouker, set out to put the plan into suitable legalese. Working alongside a legislative counsel in the House of Representatives, Bouker’s job is putting the policy objectives and provisions that the congresswoman wanted into the correct legislative language in order to function as a bill.

With the support of Tom Davis and George Voinovich, former Republican congressmen from Virginia and Ohio, respectively, the bill was introduced and gained support in Congress. Over a year later, the bill was passed in 1999 and went into effect in 2000. Since the program’s establishment, over 26,000 students have benefitted from DCTAG to attend public universities around the country.

Despite the District’s heavy reliance on DCTAG, President Trump has announced his plan to cut the $40 million program from the 2019 budget, causing local uproar. Bouker, however, is not worried. “Most presidents’ budgets in Congress are kind of dead on arrival,” Bouker said.

Regardless of the president’s suggestions, it is ultimately on Congress to write the appropriations bills that determine the future of the program. “It will now be up to Congresswoman Norton and other supporters of the program to convince the House and Senate appropriations committees that this should continue to be funded,” Bouker said. He explained that there is still much DC students can do to keep the program in place. Bouker urges District residents to work closely with Norton’s office, sending letters or making calls to the Committees on Appropriations in order to testify to the importance of the program for DC high schools.

With the support of District students and Congresswoman Norton, Bouker is confident that the DCTAG program will remain in place and continue to support college enrollment for DC residents. Bouker is proud of the DC community’s support of DCTAG and has “been energized by Wilson students’ collective opposition to proposed cuts by the federal government to the program.”