Doomed D.C. Scholarship Program

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Doomed D.C. Scholarship Program

When the record-busting omnibus spending bill was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in December, one small ray of hope that some Washington, D.C. students would be well educated failed to be included. The budget includes about $1.5 trillion in “explicit spending and another $622 billion in indirect spending.”

school choiceStudents in the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program are underprivileged, the program is successful, and it actively engages and empowers parents. Of all the pork that could have been eliminated from the federal budget, why was the very education success that politicians and educrats clamor for revoked? The answers are political. Teachers unions, which heavily support Democrats, don’t approve of scholarships to private schools. And professional lobbyists didn’t lobby for this program.

Since it was signed into law by President Bush in 2003, the Opportunity Scholarship Program has offered funding for about 6,000 students, allowing them to escape poor public schools and get a private education. These lucky ones, among the 17,500 students who have applied since 2004, receive vouchers amounting to less than half what their local public school spends per student.

More than 95% of recipients of these need-based scholarships are African-American or Hispanic, three out of five families received food stamps, and they had an average household income of $21,434, in the past year.

The 2014 Opportunity Scholarship program graduation rate was 90%, compared with 58% at D.C. public schools. Among Opportunity Scholarship recipient graduates, 88% enrolled in two- or four-year colleges.

In 2004, Sheila Jackson’s daughter wasn’t doing well in math at her D.C. public school, but she found teachers unwilling to help her. When Jackson heard about the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), she enthusiastically enrolled her daughter, who became valedictorian at her private school and is now a college student majoring in biology. Sheila Jackson is currently on the OSP board and will fight for its survival.

The program was almost eliminated by President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress in 2009, when they prohibited new applicants. Outraged D.C. parents fought back and the program was eventually saved by the new Republican majority in 2011, specifically through the efforts of former Speaker John Boehner.

Founder of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE), Star Parker, calls the new federal budget “a grand structure on which every political interest imaginable has hung its own pet program.” Parker and D.C. parents who expected the OSP to be renewed for five more years were shocked when it wasn’t. Lawmakers allowed the Opportunity Scholarship Program to be stripped from the budget at the last minute. Some place particular onus on the Congressional Black Caucus that would seem to have a vested interest in continuing a program that ensures the successful education of young people of color.

Unless Congress takes specific action to reinstate the program, it will disappear after the 2016-17 school year. (UrbanCure.org, 12-22-15) (Wall Street Journal, 2-12-16)