The Obama administration is once again standing with education special interest groups and against low-income children in Washington, D.C. His 2013 budget request zeros out funding for the highly successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which was revived last year thanks to the hard work of Speaker John Boehner and the thousands of D.C. families who received scholarships to attend a private school of choice.
In 2009, Senator Dick Durbin included a provision in an omnibus spending bill prohibiting any new children from receiving scholarships unless the program was fully reauthorized by Congress and authorized by the D.C. City Council. The make-up of Congress in 2009 was such that a reauthorization of the voucher program was highly unlikely, meaning Durbin’s provision effectively doomed the program, since no new children were allowed to receive scholarships.
But in April 2011, Speaker John Boehner forced President Obama’s hand during heated budget negotiations, securing the restoration and expansion of the D.C. OSP. Families were elated. Once again, children would have the opportunity apply for scholarships to attend a private school of their choice, providing them a lifeline out of the underperforming and often dangerous D.C. Public Schools.
The D.C. OSP’s restoration in early 2011 was an important milestone in the “Year of School Choice.” More than 1,600 low-income children in the Nation’s Capital are using vouchers this school year to attend a school that they chose.
The D.C. OSP has been highly successful. According to federally-mandated evaluations of the program, student achievement has increased, and graduation rates of voucher students have increased significantly. While graduation rates in D.C. Public Schools hover around 55 percent, students who used a voucher to attend private school had a 91 percent graduation rate.
And at $8,000, the vouchers are a bargain compared to the estimated $18,000 spent per child by D.C. Public Schools.
The Department of Education’s budget will increase 3.5 percent if the proposal is enacted, continuing a failed trend of spending more taxpayer dollars through Washington on a myriad of programs with a poor track record.
By contrast, the D.C. OSP has a stellar track record of increasing academic success, student safety, and parental satisfaction. And because of the nature of the District of Columbia (education in D.C. is under the jurisdiction of Congress), it is entirely appropriate for the federal government to fund the D.C. OSP.
The President’s budget request signals that his administration is more interested in propping up a government school system than providing options for children to receive a quality education. Regardless of the prospects of advancement for the budget request, elimination of funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program shows that the Obama administration is not interested in funding “what works.” If the move is not a concession to education special interest groups, the administration should explain why they have placed this critical school choice program on the chopping block.