H.R. 471: Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act (SOAR Act)

H.R. 471

Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act (SOAR Act)

Date
March 30, 2011 (112th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Sarah Makin

Floor Situation

On Wednesday, March 30, 2011, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 471, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act, under a rule.  The rule provides for one hour of general debate, makes in order one amendment, and provides for one motion to recommit with or without instruction. 

 

H.R. 471 was introduced by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on January 26, 2011, and was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held a markup on March 10, 2011, and reported the bill, as amended, by a vote of 21-14.

Bill Summary

H.R. 471 would reauthorize the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (D.C. OSP), which provides low-income students an opportunity to receive a competitively awarded scholarship to attend a D.C. private school of their parents’ choice.  The legislation would authorize an equivalent amount of funding for school improvement for D.C. public schools and public charter schools, as part of a three-sector approach to school reform.  The bill would authorize $60 million for each fiscal year from 2012 through 2016, with $20 million for the D.C. OSP, $20 million for D.C. public schools, and $20 million for D.C. public charter schools. 

 

H.R. 471 would continue the current requirement for rigorous evaluations of the D.C. OSP.  (The current requirements are provided by the 2003 D.C. School Choice Incentive Act).  The bill would require that the academic achievement of students who use the scholarships be compared to the achievement of students who applied for scholarships but were not offered one.  H.R. 471 would also require the use of parental satisfaction assessments measuring the success of the program in expanding choice options for parents, improving parental and student satisfaction, and increasing parental involvement in the education of their children.  The bill would require evaluations comparing the retention rates, high school graduation rates, and college admission rates of students who used the scholarships to attend private schools with the rates of students of similar backgrounds who did not participate in the program.  Finally, the bill would require assessments to be made comparing the safety of the schools attended by students who used the scholarships to the safety of the schools of students who do not participate in the program. 

 

H.R. 471 would mandate certain reporting requirements from private schools participating in the D.C. OSP, as well as require such schools to administer a national norm-reference standardized test in reading and math.  Additionally, the bill would require that the results of the test be reported to the student’s parents or legal guardians, as well as to the Institute of Education Sciences.  Lastly, the bill would require that participating private schools maintain a valid certificate of occupancy, make information on its school accreditation available, demonstrate proof of fiscal sustainability, agree to submit to site visits, and ensure that each teacher of core subject matter has at least a baccalaureate degree or equivalent degree.  

 

The bill would require the Mayor of Washington, D.C., upon receipt of the school improvement funding for D.C. public schools and D.C. public charter schools, provide a report to Congress regarding how the funds authorized and appropriated under the SOAR Act were used and how such funds are contributing to student achievement. 

 

H.R. 471 would make competitive scholarships available only to students from low-income families.  It would give a preference to siblings of current scholarship recipients and to students whose scholarships were rescinded at the direction of the Secretary of Education for the 2009–2010 school year.  The bill would require that D.C. OSP recipients be residents of the District of Columbia and come from a household that receives assistance under the supplemental nutrition assistance programs or whose income does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty line.  To ensure there is no disincentive for parents to accept job promotions or get married, the household income limit would be increased to 300 percent of the federal poverty line for students already participating in the D.C. OSP. 

 

The bill would limit the amount of scholarship assistance provided to an eligible student for school year 2011–2012 to $8,000 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $12,000 for grades nine through twelve.

Background

According to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee Report, Congress has often used its Constitutional authority to address what it deems as significant issues in the District of Columbia.  In 1996, due to the long-standing educational failures of the D.C. public schools, the D.C. School Reform Act (P.L. 104–134) was enacted, creating charter schools in the district to increase education options for students enrolled in public schools that were consistently under-performing.  In 2003, Congress created the first federally-funded, private school voucher program in the country, the D.C. OSP.  Under what was termed the ‘‘three-sector’’ approach to school improvement in the District, the new law also provided additional, direct federal payments to D.C. public schools and D.C. public charter schools.  The funding was to be used to help improve the education of students enrolled in traditional public schools and help improve and expand quality charter schools.

 

After several successful years of offering these scholarships to needy families, the Obama administration rescinded 216 scholarships that had been promised to new enrollees who were due to enter the D.C. OSP in the 2009–2010 school year.  The Democratic Congress also passed an FY 2010 omnibus appropriations bill specifying that the use of any funds provided in any act for Opportunity Scholarships after the 2009–2010 school year would only be available if the program were to be reauthorized and the District of Columbia were to adopt legislation approving that reauthorization.  The 2010 Omnibus Appropriations Act eliminated this restriction on funding, but specified that the $13.2 million it allocated to Opportunity Scholarships could be used for students who received scholarships in the 2009–2010 school year.  D.C. consistently has an average per pupil expenditure higher than any state, while its students’ test scores are consistently among the lowest in the nation.

Cost

Based on historical spending patterns for similar programs, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing the bill would cost $300 million over the 2012-2016 period, assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts.  Enacting the bill would have no impact on direct spending or revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply.

Amendments

Amendment No. 1—Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC):  The amendment would redirect all funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program to D.C. public schools and D.C. public charter schools.  This amendment would remove the three-sector approach to school reform employed in H.R. 471 and eliminate funding the D.C. voucher program. 

Additional Information

The following organizations have expressed their full support for H.R. 471 (this list is not exhaustive):

 

Agudath Israel of America   

Alliance for School Choice   

American Association of Christian Schools 

American Federation for Children  

Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO)

Brighter Choice Foundation   

Center for an Educated Georgia  

Center for Education Reform   

Coalition for Education Reform and Accountability

Coalition of Hispanic Instructors in Support of Parental Awareness (CHISPA)

Council for American Private Education (CAPE)

DC Parents for School Choice

Education Action Group

Education Breakthrough Network

Excellent Education for Everyone (E3)

Friends Of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS)

Foundation for Educational Choice

Foundation for Excellence in Education

Foundation for Florida’s Future

Georgia Family Council

Heartland Institute

Heritage Action for America* 

Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO)

Institute for Justice 

Iowa Advocates/Alliance for Choice in Education

Mid-Atlantic Catholic Schools Consortium

National Christian School Association 

Parents/Partners for Educational Freedom in North Carolina

Parents for Choice in Education

REACH Alliance

Reason Foundation

Rhode Island Scholarship Advocates

School Choice Indiana Network

School Choice Ohio 

School Choice Wisconsin

Step Up for Students

StudentsFirst

Students First Corp. (Pennsylvania)

Success Charter Network

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

 

American Conservative Union*

American Solutions

Education Reform Leaders: Jeb Bush, Josiah Bunting, John Chubb, Bruce Cole, Williamson Evers, Lisa Graham Keegan, Eric Hanushek, Doug Holtz-Eakin, Annie Hsiao, Patricia

Levesque, Sally Gray Lovejoy, Wilfred McClay, Vicki Murray, Margaret Spellings and Martin West

Family Research Council Action*

FreedomWorks*

CitizensLink*

Concerned Women for America*

Orthodox Union

*Organization intends to or will key vote a “yes” vote.