Today’s Washington Post highlights an important outcome of yesterday’s hearing on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP):
U.S. Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman and Susan Collins sternly told District officials Wednesday that Congress probably will cut funding for city schools if efforts to revive a federal voucher program for students are not successful this year.
At a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Collins (R-Maine) stressed that they and House Republicans are making the renewal of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program a chief priority.
The DCOSP was created as part of a three-sector approach that funded the vouchers at $14 million and provided $14 million each in extra funding for D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) and D.C. public charter schools. Without the creation of the scholarship program, the other two sectors would not have ever benefited from the additional funds.
But Lieberman and Collins are on to something: If Congress, with the blessing of President Obama, continues to allow the scholarships to be phased out, funding for the other two sectors should also go.
During the hearing yesterday, you could hear gasps from union members who were out in full-force in opposition. The thought of removing any funding from DCPS—even if that funding is only a result of the voucher program’s very existence—was appalling to them.
Yet special interest groups like the National Education Association strongly oppose school choice options such as vouchers, particularly the DCOSP. No matter that funding for the voucher program is a paltry amount—now down to $12 million—compared to the $780 million DCPS budget for 2010.
For the special interest groups, placing the interests of adults ahead of the needs of children is their modus operandi. Their opposition is based on the wrongheaded philosophy that a one-size-fits-all approach will meet the needs of all D.C. children.
Thankfully, special interests have been placed on the defense, as school choice could see a revival in the near term. The continuing resolution for fiscal year 2011 (H.R. 1), currently under debate in the House, includes language that would lift the prohibition on new enrollments in the voucher program and allow new students to receive scholarships as soon as the 2011–2012 school year.
Low-income children also have the support of House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH), who has introduced a bill to fully reauthorize the DCOSP. The Speaker’s support has been widely noted by Members throughout Congress. Brian Bolduc writes in National Review Online today:
A spokesman for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform says the bill is “very important” to the GOP. In fact, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Health Care, District of Columbia, Census, and the National Archives, says he expects to hold hearings on it by the end of this month. And, as a token of the speaker’s approval, it is “very likely” the bill will be the only regular piece of legislation to bear Boehner’s sponsorship this session, a spokesman tells NRO.
Support for the DCOSP is strong. There is bipartisan support, there is local support, and—most importantly—there is the support of the parents and children who view the scholarships as a lifeline to a more promising future. The only thing lacking is support from an Administration still beholden to special interest groups. But that could change if the Administration sees school choice as an opportunity to show that they truly want to reach across the aisle.