On Monday, the Washington Post reported that the future of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is in doubt. This program—which is currently helping 1,900 disadvantaged kids attend private schools—is set to expire next year if Congress doesn’t extend it. The Post reports that D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is championing an effort to kill the program.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program gives low-income students scholarships worth up to $7,500 to attend a private school in the nation’s capital. It has proven widely popular with parents. Since 2004, approximately 7,200 students have applied for scholarships through the program—about 4 applications for each scholarship.
The strong demand for school choice isn’t surprising when you consider the poor performance of the District’s public schools. Despite spending $14,800 on each child in public school, D.C. students lag far behind students in every other state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. One estimate found that only 59 percent of District students graduate high school. District schools are also often violent and dangerous. A recent report by the Washington Post found that nine violent incidents are reported in D.C. public schools on a typical day.
Given these problems, one might think that everyone would support letting 1,900 of the city’s neediest children transfer into private schools. (Former Mayor Marion Barry recently endorsed the voucher program, as did the editors of Washington Post.) But Del. Norton appears to be intent on killing the program, telling the Post: “We have to protect the children, who are the truly innocent victims here. But I can tell you that the Democratic Congress is not about to extend this program.”
If Del. Norton gets her way, 1,900 low-income children will be withdrawn from private schools and sent back into public school system with the D.C. government losing as much as $18 million in federal funding in the process. For the kids involved, this could have a devastating effect on their lives.
A new website – www.VoicesOfSchoolChoice.org – helps us understand just what a difference school choice can make a child’s lives. There, visitors can listen to D.C. parents and students talk about their experience participating in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. You can meet parents like Pamela Battle and April Cole-Walton and hear about the difference a scholarship makes. Here’s hoping lawmakers on Capitol Hill take the time to listen to these families.
For more information on school choice in Washington, D.C, see this recent Heritage report: “Improving Education in the Nation’s Capital: Expanding School Choice.”