National School Choice Week: Winning the Battle for School Choice in D.C.
Rachel Sheffield /
When the first National School Choice Week began just one year ago, the prospect of educational opportunity for hundreds of D.C. school children hung precariously in the balance.
In January 2011, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship (DCOSP)—a voucher program for low-income schoolchildren in the nation’s capital—had for two years been at risk of being completely phased out by liberals in Congress, right under the nose of the complacent Obama Administration. And for two years proponents of school choice had been fighting to ensure that D.C. children would have greater hope for their academic future than what a failing public school system would provide.
Then, in March of last year, House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I–CT) introduced the SOAR Act, which aimed to restore and expand the DCOSP. The legislation passed in the House but had a nearly insurmountable battle ahead in the Senate.
However, in a victorious moment for D.C. schoolchildren, Speaker Boehner succeeded in placing the SOAR Act in the continuing resolution passed by Congress on April 9 and signed into law. This ensured that funding for DCOSP would continue and even more D.C. students would be able to take advantage of school choice.
Today, children across the district are benefiting from the DCOSP. Approximately 1,615 K-12 children are enrolled in private schools across D.C., children who would otherwise have little choice but to attend an underperforming public school.
These students have a significantly higher likelihood of graduating than their counterparts in the public system. In 2010, researchers found that over 90 percent of DCOSP students graduate from high school, compared to only 70 percent of their peers of similar backgrounds who remained in D.C. public schools.
These students are also more likely to be in a safe school, as they are able to escape some of the most dangerous public schools in the U.S.
Thus, it’s little wonder that when compared to other parents of D.C. schoolchildren, parents of DCOSP students report that they are happier with their children’s schools.
Last year at this time, the battle for DCOSP was yet to be won. Today, the fruits of the victory of that battle are manifested in the number of students who are able to attend schools that are more likely to help them fulfill their potential.
Similar struggles for educational opportunity are taking place across the nation. And just like the success in D.C., other victories for educational opportunity can occur as reform-minded individuals come together—just as they are doing this week—to stand for school choice.