For those who would like to see D.C. voucher program opened to new students again, expect an uphill battle. Today the White House Office of Budget and Management released a statement opposing House speaker John Boehner’s legislation:
While the Administration appreciates that H.R. 471 would provide Federal support for improving public schools in the District of Columbia (D.C.), including expanding and improving high-quality D.C. public charter schools, the Administration opposes the creation or expansion of private school voucher programs that are authorized by this bill. The Federal Government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students. Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement. The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.
Rigorous evaluation over several years demonstrates that the D.C. program has not yielded improved student achievement by its scholarship recipients compared to other students in D.C. While the President’s FY 2012 Budget requests funding to improve D.C. public schools and expand high-quality public charter schools, the Administration opposes targeting resources to help a small number of individuals attend private schools rather than creating access to great public schools for every child.
It’s true that the D.C. voucher program did not produce the type of test score gains that had been hoped for (although students had higher reading test scores in the third year of the program and, with 94 percent certainty, also made reading gains in the fourth year).
But here’s what vouchers did achieve: graduation rates of 91 percent, 21 percentage points higher than the graduation rates of students who applied for a D.C. voucher, but did not win the lottery. Considering the difference a high-school degree can make — high school graduates earn about $10,000 more annually than high school dropouts, and have significantly lower unemployment rates — any program that helps students make it to graduation is worthwhile.
If the Obama administration is serious about helping low-income kids — and not kowtowing to the teachers unions — they should reverse their position on vouchers pronto. Vouchers aren’t a partisan issue. Democrats like California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Newark mayor Cory Booker have come out in favor of vouchers. President Obama could show his dedication to policy outcomes, not political friends, by doing the same.