Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–CA) has made some pretty absurd comments over the years. Most notably, perhaps, was her quip that “we have to pass the [health care] bill so that you can find out what is in it.” But comments sent out in a press release yesterday rival that condescending statement. In a release concerning House Speaker John Boehner’s (R–OH) efforts to repeal Obamacare, Pelosi added:
Speaker Boehner plans to bring to the floor his own legislation that moves to privatize public education in the District of Columbia. … [It] is an ideological effort to recreate a program that was ended years ago because it did not work.
Where to begin? The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) has been a resounding success. Congressionally mandated evaluations of the scholarship program by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that DCOSP children are making gains in academic achievement, particularly reading achievement. Notably, students who received a voucher and used it to attend private school had a 91 percent graduation rate. Graduation rates in D.C. Public Schools stand at just around 55 percent. Clearly, the program works.
Moreover, the scholarships were not ended; they were placed on life support when Senator Richard Durbin (D–IL) placed language into an omnibus spending bill in 2009 prohibiting new students from entering the program. Ask the nearly 1,100 students who are currently benefiting from vouchers to attend private school whether the program was “ended,” as Pelosi claims.
Instead, Boehner and Senator Joe Lieberman (ID–CT) have introduced a bill to reauthorize the DCOSP, and to lift the prohibition on new students from entering. The proposal would take the program off life support and ensure that quality school choice options exist for low-income families in D.C.
In what could be the most consequential education vote of the year, Boehner’s Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act will be voted on in the House tomorrow. A sign of the importance the Speaker places on school choice, it’s the only bill he plans to sponsor this year.
Pelosi’s intimation that providing school choice to low-income children in the nation’s capitol creates some sort of fiscal burden is also woefully incorrect. The DCOSP is a fiscally responsible plan to ensure that low-income students in the nation’s capitol have access to a quality education. The DCOSP:
- Restores original alignment to D.C. educational improvement. Since 2004, the highly successful and popular DCOSP has been funded as part of a three-sector approach to improving education in Washington, D.C. That plan had provided equal amounts of funding for the DCOSP, D.C. Public Charter Schools, and D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). But in 2009, Congress upset the balance of the three-sector approach by tripling the appropriation for DCPS while simultaneously starting to phase out the DCOSP.
- Reduces spending and prioritizes choice. The proposal to restore and expand the DCOSP also reduces spending for the three-sector approach by $15.4 million. The $60 million authorization being proposed is $15.4 million less than the current baseline appropriation of $75.4 million for fiscal year 2010.
- Shifts funds to what works. Proposals to restore the DCOSP would reduce overall funding for the three-sector approach and shift money to what works: parental choice in education. Under the proposal, each of the sectors would receive $20 million in funding.
The $7,500 scholarships offered through the DCOSP are also a far more cost-effective and efficient way to spend precious taxpayer resources:
- DCPS has among the highest per-pupil expenditures in the country yet ranks 51st in terms of academic achievement. It also has a poor school safety record.
- Per-pupil spending in DCPS now exceeds $17,600—more than twice the amount of the DCOSP. While the House and Senate reauthorization bills would increase the scholarships to $8,000 and $12,000 for elementary and secondary students, respectively, the vouchers would still be significantly less than per-pupil spending in DCPS.
Providing school choice to children living in the nation’s capital should be a priority for any lawmaker who cares about equality of opportunity, parental empowerment, and increasing education outcomes. The icing on the cake of the DCOSP is that it’s a fiscally responsible plan to accomplish those goals.