D.C. families filled a Senate conference room on Thursday to applaud Senator Joseph Lieberman’s (I-CT) introduction of a bill reauthorizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. The Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act would reauthorize the program for another five years, and allows new students to continue to enter the program over that time period. Senators Lieberman, Collins (R-ME), and Voinovich (R-OH) unveiled the bipartisan bill alongside former Mayor Anthony Williams, and former D.C. City Councilmember Kevin Chavous.
If passed, the SOAR Act would reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, which this year is helping more than 1,700 low-income children to attend a safe and effective private school of their choice in the District. The bill increases the scholarship amount from $7,500 to $9,000 for students in grades K-8, and to $11,000 for students in grades 9-12. In addition, overall funding would be increased for the traditional “three-sector” approach, providing $20 million to the Opportunity Scholarship program, $20 million to the D.C. public schools, and $20 million to the public charter schools.
The bill will give priority to siblings of students already in the program, and specifically ensures that, subject to funding, the 216 students who had scholarships rescinded by the Department of Education be admitted back into the program.
At the press conference, Sen. Lieberman passionately declared:
“The fight goes on. We are not giving up because we know how much this means to you and your children.”
Senator Susan Collins, a co-sponsor of the reauthorization legislation, noted that if this bill fails and the program ends, 86 percent of participating students would be returning to failing schools. Collins recognized a young student in the press conference wearing a sticker which read “What About Me?” and stated “That’s the question you should be asking to anyone opposing this program.” Former D.C. City Councilman Kevin Chavous referenced a recent statement by President Obama that it would be a “shame” for a child to have to go to a failing school.
The introduction of a reauthorization bill comes in concert with a new poll showing that a full 79 percent of K-12 parents in D.C. support the program and its continuation. Not only do D.C. residents strongly support the program, but local leaders are also in favor of its continuation. Recently, a majority of the D.C. City Council signed a letter sent to Mayor Adrian Fenty and Education Secretary Arne Duncan in support of the program’s continuation.
Thanks to the introduction of the reauthorization bill yesterday, the future of thousands of D.C. children looks a little brighter.