Last week Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), along with co-sponsors Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Robert Byrd (D-WV), and George Voinovich (R-OH) filed an amendment to the tax extenders bill to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which is currently being phased-out by Congress and the Obama administration. The amendment however, was blocked by Senator Reid, despite the Nevada Senator having pledged over the summer of 2009 to give Lieberman’s reauthorization measure floor time.
Lieberman is continuing to push for an opportunity to have his amendment considered. The next bill on the Senate floor is the FAA reauthorization bill. In a floor statement on Tuesday in support of his amendment, Senator Lieberman stated:
[The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program] is supported by the chancellor of the school system, Michelle Rhee, and by Mayor Fenty. It is warmly endorsed by the families of the students who have benefited from this program as it literally changed their lives. Yet it has run into opposition in Congress, I fear from people who are committed to defending a status quo that is not working…
“Chancellor Michelle Rhee is working so hard to reform the school system of our Nation’s Capital…And she said, I think with great strength and conviction and honesty—and she is the head of the public school system here—that until she can tell these parents that their children will get a good education in the public schools of the District of Columbia, she cannot in good conscience oppose this plan that will basically enable these children a lifeline while she is fixing the DC public schools—a lifeline to a better education, a better career, a better life.
Lieberman’s amendment would reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for five years and increase the amount of the scholarships – which have not increased since the program’s inception in 2004. Scholarship amounts would increase from $7,500 to $9,000 for students in grades K-8 and $11,000 for students in grades 9-12. Lieberman’s proposal would maintain the so-called “three-sector” funding approach, providing money for the scholarships as well as additional funding for D.C. public schools and public charter schools. Each of the “three sectors” would receive $20 million.
The DC voucher program has proven to be the most effective education policy evaluated by the Federal Government’s official educational research arm so far.
That is an awful lot to be able to say. So the path this bill has followed, the opposition to it, has been so frustrating. People say this is money that is coming out of the public school budget. The whole design of this original program was to add money in equal parts to the DC public schools—money it would not otherwise have received. It was a kind of compensatory balance: the same amount to the charter schools, which are doing very well here in Washington, and then the same amount to the opportunity scholarship program. So money not from the public schools, but an education opportunity for poor kids in Washington now going to schools designated as unable to educate them, and instead giving them the opportunity to go to better private or faith-based schools.
The next test for the Lieberman amendments should come during this week.