President Obama’s FY2011 budget confirms his administration’s plans to phase out the successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. There are two clear indicators of this in the budget: the elimination of future funding for the program and the effective consolidation of the “three-sector approach” into two sectors. With regard to the elimination of funding, page 1244 states:
The Budget proposes to continue to provide private school vouchers for only those students currently enrolled in the program…it is expected that this will be the final request for Federal funding to support the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Any funds not used in 2011 will be available in the future years to provide scholarships to the current cohort of students.
If adopted by Congress, this language would permanently restrict scholarship funding to the $9.4 million proposed in the FY2011 budget (which decreases to $8.4 million after subtracting the $1 million appropriated for administrative costs and tests). But as unfortunate as the elimination of the D.C. OSP is, the continued political pay-off to the D.C. public school system is equally appalling.
As part of the original legislation creating the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, D.C. Public Schools and D.C. public charter schools received additional payments on top of their regular federal appropriations. For D.C. public schools, federal appropriations exceed $120 million. The D.C. Public School System and the D.C. public charter schools each received their own allocation of $13 million to match the $13 million in funding used to create the D.C. OSP. The D.C. public schools and charter schools would have never seen any of this additional money if it weren’t for the creation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
Yet, as funding for the Opportunity Scholarships continues to decline, appropriations to the other two sectors continue to grow. According to President Obama’s FY2011 budget, funding for the D.C. OSP is slashed to $8.4 million (after administrative costs), while the additional public school and public charter school funding is increased to $23 million and $20 million, respectively. What’s more, the president’s budget also includes what he calls a “jump start” for reforms for the D.C. public schools of an additional $20 million, taking the grand total for D.C. public schools to $43 million. And remember, this is all in addition to D.C.P.S.’ regular federal appropriations.
As the President and Congress continue to funnel taxpayer money into the unsafe and underperforming D.C. Public School System, they are simultaneously cutting funding for the one federal education program we know works – the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The president’s budget punctuates his policy of exercising school choice for his own family while denying it to the low-income children struggling in the nation’s capital.
Thankfully, supporters of educational opportunity in D.C. have not stopped fighting. Last week, Senator Joe Lieberman and Representative John Boehner sent a letter to President Obama asking him to support school choice in the District. Tomorrow (February 4th), Senator Lieberman and Senator Susan Collins will host a press conference in support of the D.C. OSP. Despite the administration’s efforts to phase out the successful scholarships, District families have not given up hope.