President Obama’s 2013 budget request not only recklessly increases funding for the Department of Education by another 3.5 percent (taking the bloated agency’s budget to $68.9 billion), it brazenly eliminates funding for the highly successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
Not that long ago, President Obama said on the Today show that he would not send his own children to D.C. public schools. For seemingly political reasons, Obama has decided to stand in solidarity with the education special-interest groups and against this highly successful school-choice program.
More than 1,600 low-income children are currently enrolled in the D.C. OSP, and receive vouchers of $8,000 ($12,000 for high-school students) to attend a private school of their choice that meets their needs. In a city with the worst-performing and most dangerous public schools in the country, the vouchers have been a lifeline to a brighter future for these children.
D.C. OSP families are used to fighting for what they believe in. In 2009, Senator Dick Durbin included a provision in an omnibus spending bill prohibiting any new children from receiving scholarships unless the program was fully reauthorized by Congress and authorized by the D.C. City Council. The make-up of Congress in 2009 was such that a reauthorization of the voucher program was highly unlikely, meaning Durbin’s provision effectively doomed the program, since no new children were allowed to receive scholarships.
But not even a year ago, D.C. parents were elated to learn that Speaker Boehner had successfully fought for the program’s reauthorization. Poor children in the nation’s capital once again had the opportunity to apply for a scholarship to attend a private school of their choice. That opportunity meant that many children were able to join their siblings in a school that is safe and effective. And it meant that they could be part of an educational option that has had an unprecedented impact on improving their future life outcomes.
The D.C. OSP is highly successful. According to federally mandated evaluations of the program, student achievement has increased, and graduation rates of voucher students have increased significantly. While graduation rates in D.C. public schools hover around 55 percent, students who used a voucher to attend private school had a 91 percent graduation rate.
But, if the president has his way, families will have to fight once again to preserve their children’s shot at a quality education. His administration is clearly not interested in, as they purport, funding “what works,” and children in the D.C. deserve an explanation as to why their educational futures are once again being put on the line.
— Lindsey M. Burke is senior education-policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.