Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, who will retire at the end of October, will not be leaving office without one final push for parental choice in education.
Boehner has been a strong supporter of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP), which was the first bill he presented to Congress as Speaker of the House when he assumed that role back in 2011.
Appropriately, as one of the leading champions for school choice in the nation’s capital, he is leaving his position with reauthorization of the Opportunity Scholarship Program a top priority.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program enables children from low-income families to attend private schools of choice in the District using a scholarship worth up to $8,381 for elementary and middle school students and up to $12,572 for high school students. In the 2014-15 school year, 1,442 students were awarded new scholarships, 98 percent of whom previously attended a school categorized as “failing.” On Monday, Boehner introduced the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, which reauthorizes the program through 2021.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, authorized in 2003 and operational in 2004, has faced several efforts by the Obama administration to zero out funding for the scholarships. President Obama did not include funding for the voucher program in his 2013 budget, which prompted Boehner to condemn the president’s actions:
This program is the only initiative in America where the federal government allows parents to choose the school that best fits their child’s needs. It has proven overwhelmingly popular among parents, and successful in increasing graduation rates amongst students.
I am disappointed that President Obama phased out funding for DC OSP in his budget, and I urge Congress to continue supporting the program to ensure more students have access to a high-quality education—the great equalizer in America – regardless of their zip code.
Indeed, the notion that a child’s future need not be linked to the fate of his ZIP code is truly life-changing for D.C. residents. Washington, D.C.’s public school system consistently underperforms, with an overall graduation rate of only 64 percent in 2015, well below the national average of 81 percent.
However, students who enrolled in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program reached a remarkable graduation rate of 91 percent according to a U.S. Department of Education Study. In addition to significant improvements in academic attainment rates, families have been empowered to choose safe schools that fit their children’s individual learning needs.
The overwhelming success of students who took advantage of D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program speaks to the incredible potential of student-centered education policies. More than 6,100 children have used a scholarship to attend a private school of choice since the program’s inaugural year in 2004-05.
In partnership with then Sen. Joe Lieberman, Boehner was able to negotiate the continuation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program despite additional defunding efforts from the administration in 2012.
According to Roll Call, although the proposal will likely face opposition from some left-leaning members of Congress, Boehner has touted the bipartisan support for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which it has enjoyed since its inception. “It is a model for how we can break the status quo that deprives too many students of a great education[.] …This program was established with bipartisan support, and I am proud that we have bipartisan support for its renewal,” Boehner stated.
The 2015 SOAR Act sparks a discussion about what opportunities Congress can grant the students of Washington, D.C., to help them achieve their greatest potential.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has helped thousands of students escape from their underperforming assigned schools and assured parents that their children are in a safe environment. Congress should continue to support such innovative and effective efforts.
This story has been updated to state that John Boehner first became speaker in 2011.