Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush signed into law the D.C. School Choice Incentive Act, creating the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP). The law marked a sea change for the educational opportunities available to children from low-income families in the nation’s capital.
Thanks to the DCOSP, 1,638 students are using scholarships to attend private schools of choice this school year. The program is providing them a lifeline out of underperforming public schools and empowering their families with options in how and where they are educated.
Were it not for the DCOSP, more than 98 percent of students who used vouchers to attend private schools would have been zoned to attend underperforming public schools during the 2013–2014 school year. But because they were able to choose safe schools that meet their learning needs, students in the DCOSP are thriving.
The U.S. Department of Education’s 2010 evaluation of the DCOSP found that students in the voucher program had a 91 percent graduation rate, compared to 70 percent in the control group. As Patrick Wolf, the lead author of the evaluation, notes:
These results are important because high school graduation is strongly associated with a large number of important life outcomes such as lifetime earnings, longevity, avoiding prison and out-of-wedlock births, and marital stability.… In the area of education, how far you go is more important than how much you know, and D.C. students went farther with the assistance of a school voucher.
As Speaker of the House John Boehner, a champion of the DCOSP, noted in an op-ed yesterday, “Compare to that the Washington, D.C. public school on-time graduation rate of 48.8 percent. What’s more, research shows that every dollar spent on the D.C. program has produced $2.62 of benefits in increased earnings potential.”
Despite the success of the scholarships, the Obama Administration has been hostile toward the program. While President Obama signed the reauthorization in 2011, his Administration has continued to try to zero-out funding year after year.
Families, on the other hand, continue to fight to ensure that children in D.C. have access to safe and effective schools. The future of options like the DCOSP—and school choice options across the country—is why next week’s celebration of National School Choice Week is so important. More than 5,500 events are planned across the country to highlight the benefits of choice in education.
The DCOSP would not have come to fruition without the hard work of school choice advocates such as Virginia Walden Ford and the many D.C. parents who fought for options for their children. Virginia founded D.C. Parents for School Choice in 1998 and fought tirelessly for Congress to approve the DCOSP.
“In each of the fights to bring school choice to the states and the District of Columbia,” she notes, “there have been strong parent voices. We have seen many parents, for the first time, become partners of change, excited about how their children are learning and what lies ahead for them in obtaining the American dream of getting the quality education they deserve.”