The Corner

Joe for D.C. Schools

Lieberman Appeals to Senate Appropriators to Protect

Opportunity Scholarship Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) today appealed to Senate Appropriators to not include any language in the District of Columbia’s funding bill which will adversely impact the District’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP).  The program provides low income students in failing schools in the District up to $7,500 a year in tuition, school fees, and transportation expenses to attend non-public schools.

In the letters, Senator Lieberman noted that only 6% of students entering the OSP program have a mother with a bachelor’s degree, and that the average household income is around $22,700.  These are students who would otherwise be attending troubled schools in the District.

Senator Lieberman is a strong believer in our nation’s public school system and is committed to pushing for funding and reforms to make our public school system the best in the world.  While working towards this goal, he has supported pilot voucher programs as a means to provide students in currently struggling schools with alternative ways to get the best education possible.

The text of the letters is provided below.

– – – – – – – – – – –

July 8, 2008

The Honorable Richard J. Durbin, Chairman

The Honorable Sam Brownback, Ranking Member

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Brownback,

It is my understanding that the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government is considering proposals that would be detrimental to the District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP).  As the Chairman of the Committee with jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, I am writing to urge you to refrain from offering any bill or report language that would compromise the program, or make the expenditure of funds dependent upon enactment of a reauthorization bill or legislative action by the District of Columbia.  I also urge you to fund the program at the requested level of $18 million.

With regard to funding levels, as you know, the OSP program was originally enacted as a critical component of a tri-part initiative to enhance educational opportunities for the children of the District of Columbia.  At that time we appropriated, in equal amounts, additional funds for DC public schools, for DC public charter schools, and for the OSP program.  I believe it is essential to maintain the integrity and equity of this tri-part program.  As you know, Mayor Fenty endorsed the President’s request to provide $18 million each for the OSP program, for charter schools, and for the base component of the DC public school reform initiative.  While I support this funding request, I am aware that the House mark simply maintains funding for the OSP program at last year’s level of $14.8 million, while providing increased funding for charter and public schools.  I urge you, at the very least, to maintain the House level of $14.8 million for the OSP program.  Any funding below this level will pose a hardship on the 1900 children currently participating in the OSP program. 

I might point out that the average household income for children entering the OSP program is around $22,700, and that only 6% of these students have a mother with a bachelor’s degree.  Furthermore, over 85% of the students in the OSP program would otherwise be attending a school in Need of Improvement, Corrective Action, or Restructuring, as designated under No Child Left Behind.  I have met with some of these children and know that they want to continue in this program and benefit from educational opportunities that would otherwise be closed to them.

I also understand that the Subcommittee is considering including bill or report language that would effectively dismantle the program if certain requirements were not met, including a requirement that Congress enact reauthorization legislation by September of next year.  I believe this is unfair to these low-income children of the District of Columbia, particularly as other programs continue to be funded without authorizations.  Given how slowly the wheels of Congress can turn, it is quite likely that we will not enact reauthorization legislation by that time.  The education of these low-income children should not be held hostage to congressional inaction and partisan politics. 

Considerable federal resources have already been invested in the OSP program.  It is important that Congress have an opportunity to fully evaluate the effectiveness of this program in the light of day before turning our back on that investment.  I recognize that preliminary reports have been issued with mixed results.  However, a recent evaluation by the US Department of Education confirmed that parental satisfaction is high and that less than two years after receiving a scholarship there are signs that students are beginning to make important academic progress.  I believe that this program should not be dismantled in the appropriations process and that a careful review is warranted according to the traditional reauthorization process.  Furthermore, a comprehensive report on the third year of the program is due out next June.

In sum, I urge you to at least fund the OSP program at the House mark of $14.8 million, if not $18 million, and to refrain from including any bill or report language that could cripple the program.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Joseph I. Lieberman

UNITED STATES SENATOR

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