D.C. Vouchers Waiting for a Better Day

Jennifer Marshall /

“Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” Mark Twain is supposed to have said. Rumors about the demise of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) would come as a similar surprise to more than a thousand scholarship recipients in Washington, D.C., who are attending schools of their choice this fall.

It’s true that the DCOSP is in survival mode, but it remains alive to fight another day. Neither the Obama Administration nor this Congress has dared snatch away current students’ scholarships, and the real battle for the program’s future lies ahead in 2011 with a likely more sympathetic Congress.

The fiscal year 2010 omnibus appropriations bill provided $12 million in scholarships for current students, but the program’s opponents in Congress succeeded in barring new students.

Meanwhile, the President has failed to speak up for the kind of educational opportunity from which he himself benefited (as a scholarship recipient at an elite private school in Hawaii) and from which his daughters currently benefit (as students in a top D.C. private school thanks to the wise choice of parents with means). As Bill McGurn writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

That deafening roar you hear—that’s the sound of Barack Obama’s silence on the future of school reform in the District of Columbia. And if he doesn’t break it soon, he may become the first president in two decades to have left Washington’s children with fewer chances for a good school than when he started. …

This from the same president who shows no such shyness when interjecting himself into, say, a complaint about Boston police, a dispute over an Islamic Center in Manhattan, or the mass firing of teachers at a troubled high school in Central Falls, R.I. Why so reticent about an issue affecting the future of thousands of African-American children?

But allies of the DCOSP remain energized: The Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) took out a full-page ad in Saturday’s New York Times. In an open letter to President Obama, former D.C. councilmember and current BAEO chairman Kevin Chavous called on him to “stop denying children access to better schools.” The ad seizes the irony in President Obama’s statement last week on the Today show:

For a mom or a dad who are working hard but don’t have a bunch of connections [or] don’t have a lot of choice in terms of where they live, they should be getting the same quality of education for their kids as anybody else. And we don’t have that yet.