The Corner

A Hearing for D.C.’s Children

Sen. Joe Lieberman threw down the gauntlet earlier today during a committee hearing on the merits of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. “I usually try to see the argument on both sides … but I can’t,” he said. The hearing was co-hosted by Sen. Susan Collins, who called the last Congress’s effort to phase out the scholarships an “unfortunate decision” that is “disappointing and short-sighted.”

The hearing comes on the heels of the introduction of the SOAR Act by Senator Lieberman and by Speaker Boehner in the House, which would reauthorize the voucher program and breathe life back into school choice in the nation’s capital. And, as Senator Lieberman noted during the hearing, the speaker doesn’t usually introduce bills, but Speaker Boehner decided to co-sponsor the SOAR Act — an indication of the importance Boehner places on school choice. Indeed, reports indicate it’s the only bill the speaker plans to introduce this year.

With the exception of D.C. mayor Vincent Gray, who cautioned against “scapegoating” the public-school system, all of the witnesses came out in strong support of the voucher program. D.C. City Council chairman Kwame Brown gave particularly strong testimony in favor of the OSP, noting, “As a parent myself, I know that the most fundamental instinct of parents is to seek what is best for their children. I cannot look a working mother in the eye and tell her that she deserves less choice, not more.”

Former city councilmember Kevin P. Chavous argued that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is “not a battle of ideology, it is a continuation of the fight for civil rights in our nation.” And executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice Virginia Walden Ford called the D.C. OSP a miracle that has given the children of D.C. “the opportunity to go to schools that have made them scholars. It made them important in the eyes of the world. It gave them the inspiration to succeed.”

Of course, many of the national policymakers who have themselves benefited from school choice are silent on the issue: President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Sen. Richard Durbin (whose language is responsible for the voucher program’s being on life support). But perhaps they’ll take the time to listen to the students.

Ronald Holassie is now a high-school senior and a proud recipient of a D.C. Opportunity Scholarship. For him, the opportunity to attend a school of his choice has been life-changing:

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Made a Difference in My Life

Ronald Holassie

My journey with the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program began six years ago when I was 13. I am now a senior at Archbishop Carroll High School, but attended various D.C. public schools during elementary school. My mother is a single parent working on the poverty level living in a one-bedroom apartment.

I faced many challenges in the public school system. Altercations with other students and a lack of academic achievement resulted in me switching to different schools around D.C. But it seemed that I was faced with the same problems at each new school.

Then one day my mother saw an ad for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. She quickly applied, and soon after I was accepted and given a scholarship to attend any private school of our choice in D.C. My mother now had a chance to send me to a school she knew would fit me best.

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The scholarship covered tuition, books and my uniform. My mother saw it as a blessing and an answer of prayer from God for her child. She always wanted me to have a quality education.

When I received my scholarship, I was so far behind that the school asked me to repeat the sixth grade. The first few months were very different as the expectations and standards were much higher. The discipline in the school was also much more strict. Adjusting to the new school wasn’t easy; it took time. I had to catch up and get on the academic level I needed to be on and fulfill the expectations of the new school. But it all didn’t happen that fast. It took some years and hard work and dedication.

When I entered high school, I made the honor roll the first quarter. I was then able to fulfill the expectations and standards of a private institution such as Archbishop Carroll, which I now attend. It didn’t just all happen smoothly throughout those four years. I was faced with obstacles and many challenges, both academically and socially. But now I look back and see that it all happened for a reason. The reason was for me to evolve and succeed and to become the successful young adult I am today.

As it comes to the final months of high school and the beginning of a new chapter in my life, I’ve realized that I have learned from my mistakes and have grown throughout the years of being in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. As a young man, I see a future ahead of me and a vision of a successful life. I feel as if all these years served as preparation for the real world. I am now confident that I can go out into the world and make something out of my life, and that I will not only impact people here in the United States but around the world. I am an innovator and am evolving as a young African-American adult who has ambition and is capable of doing great things in life.

Lindsey Burke is a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

Lindsey Burke is the director of education policy and the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at the Heritage Foundation.

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