Yesterday, members of Congress released the text of their $446.8 billion spending measure – the Omnibus Appropriations bill – which will likely be enacted before December 18. To the dismay of low-income parents in the District of Columbia, the omnibus also contains language seriously jeopardizing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program – despite the wishes of the D.C. City Council and other leaders, District residents, and most importantly, District families.
The omnibus language blocks new entrants to the Opportunity Scholarship program, stating explicitly that the funding can be used “only for scholarships to students who received scholarships in the 2009-2010 school year.” Prohibiting any new children from receiving scholarships means the program will necessarily be phased out in the next few years. This was certainly not the Christmas present D.C. families were hoping for.
Federally-mandated evaluations show that the D.C. OSP works for children; scholarship students are reading 3 months ahead of their public school peers, and parents are more satisfied with their children’s education and safety. These results are even more impressive when coupled with the fact that the scholarships, at $7,500, are half what is spent per student in the D.C. public schools. But those opposed to the scholarships – certain members of Congress – have continued to turn a blind eye to program’s demonstrable success.
What incentive would lawmakers have to deny low-income minority children the opportunity for a safe and effective education? It’s no secret that the teachers’ unions are vehemently opposed to school choice. It’s also no secret that the teachers’ unions contribute heavily to members of Congress. The Weekly Standard writes:
“The Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics recently released data showing that the NEA topped the chart as the number one national donor during the 2007-08 election cycle, shelling out $57.6 million in combined federal and state contributions. The American Federation of Teachers was number 25, with more than $13 million in contributions.
“Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency put this in perspective, writing that the NEA’s and AFT’s 2007-08 contributions meant that ‘America’s two teachers’ unions outspent AT&T, Goldman Sachs, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, General Electric, Chevron, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley, Lockheed Martin, FedEx, Boeing, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, Lehman Brothers, and the Walt Disney Corporation, combined’.”
While families and school choice advocates in the Nation’s Capital and across the country still have hope that the program could be fully reauthorized, the threatening language contained in the Omnibus is already having repercussions. The Weekly Standard again reports:
“Last week the Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF), the nonprofit organization that administers the program, announced that Congress’s failure to act and the Obama administration’s unwillingness to let new students participate, means that the WSF will be forced to end its oversight of the program this summer, when the school year ends.”
President Obama is the one person who could truly change the course of history for education in the District of Columbia. If the President – who clearly values school choice for his own children – takes a stand in support of choice for all District families, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship will have a much brighter future – and families, an especially merry Christmas.