August 24, 2010, is the first day of school for many children in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, many parents will be forced to send their children to low-performing schools because they, unlike President Obama and members of Congress, do not have the resources to send their children to a private school or to move to a safer town with better-performing public schools.
Thanks to the Opportunity Scholarship Program, more than 1,000 students will escape failing schools this year and choose a safe school that will educate them.
Background: In 2004, Congress enacted an Opportunity Scholarship Program for low-income children in Washington, DC. The legislation provided approximately $13 million for low-income children to escape some of DC’s worst-performing schools and attend a school of their choice. Each scholarship is worth $7,500 per child and may be used for tuition, school fees, and transportation.
Student Eligibility: To receive a scholarship, students must reside in Washington, DC, and be in grade K through 12. Specifically, students who attend schools in need of improvement (SINI) have a priority, and 85 percent of students who receive an opportunity scholarship are leaving schools that have been designated SINI. The average household income for scholarship recipients is approximately $25,000, which is lower than the eligibility limit.
Participation—Demand Outpaces Supply: Since school year 2004-05, nearly 9,000 children have applied for a scholarship to escape a failing school. To date, more than 3,300 children have received a scholarship and used the money to escape a failing school. Students have used the scholarship at 68 of the 88 general purpose private schools that participate in the program. Despite sending their children to better-performing schools, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan prevented 216 children from using their awarded scholarships during the 2010-11 school year.
Results: Based on the findings of some recent independent studies, the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program is working. Recently, Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas compared graduation rates and parental satisfaction between children who received a scholarship and children who were eligible and applied for a scholarship but did not receive one. Wolf found:
Second, the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) Institute for Education Sciences found that Opportunity Scholarship Program participants’ academic gains were the largest achievement impact of any of the 11 federal education programs it studied.
Current Status: The Obama Administration and the Democrats in Congress are killing the program. They have barred children—even siblings of children currently receiving a scholarship—from enrolling and have slashed funding for the program that is saving lives and helping low-income children fulfill their dreams.
While many low-income families in Washington, DC, are forced to send their children to failing and, at times, unsafe schools, President Obama and Sec. Arne Duncan will send their children to safe and better-performing schools this school year. The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program is an education lifeline for thousands of low-income children in Washington, DC, and it is working. Without a scholarship, these children would be stuck in schools that fail them. Unfortunately, President Obama, Sec. Duncan, and Democrats in Congress do not support this program.