“Budgets are about choices,” stated President Obama in recent remarks to governors about his massive fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request. Nothing more clearly demonstrates the Administration’s priorities than Obama’s decision to once again place the successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) on the chopping block while simultaneously growing the Department of Education’s (DOE) budget more than any other federal agency.
In so doing, President Obama is showing low-income D.C. families that his priority is maintaining the unacceptable status quo—at least when it comes to other programs—while bowing to special interest groups like the education unions to eliminate the DCOSP. The Washington Post editorialized yesterday:
Surely, it shouldn’t be among the president’s priorities to single out for attack a tiny federal program that not only works—in the judgment of federal evaluators—but also enjoys bipartisan support. If it is, we trust that [House Speaker John] Boehner [R–OH] would step in, as he did last year, to save a program that D.C.’s poorest families value for their children.
Boehner did in fact save the voucher program last year. The Speaker leveraged last year’s heated budget negotiations to secure a five-year reauthorization of the DCOSP. And as the Post notes today, families “welcomed the certainty.” But once again, poor families in the nation’s capital, home to some of the lowest-performing and least safe public schools in the country, are left to wonder why President Obama has singled out this small, yet effective, school choice program.
The DCOSP has had a tremendous impact on the lives of Washington children. A federally mandated evaluation, published by the DOE, found that use of a voucher to attend private school in D.C. had a statistically significant impact on academic attainment, increasing graduation rates 21 percentage points. And importantly, parents of voucher children are more satisfied with their children’s educational experience and believe that their children are in safer learning environments.
And, at between $8,000 and $12,000, the vouchers are a fraction of the more than $18,000 spent per-pupil in D.C. public schools.
President Obama owes D.C. children an explanation of why their educational futures are once again on the line.
The President’s budget request for the DOE increases the agency’s discretionary budget to nearly $70 billion. Moreover, Obama is pushing lawmakers to spend an additional $60 billion on what the Administration is calling its “education blueprint,” a new pot of federal funding that simply adds a new additional category of immediate funding that includes federally funded education jobs and federal funding for school modernization.
And if those proposals were to be implemented, President Obama will have spent in one term nearly as much as President Bush spent in two, even considering the fact that President Bush nearly doubled the size of the DOE.
And yet President Obama’s priority is to eliminate the $20 million DCOSP. For the sake of D.C. families, the Administration’s budget request and blueprint should remain just that—requests. When it comes to education, policymakers should put a priority on parental choice.