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Washington Post on D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program

With yesterday’s release of the final report on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, government researchers have once again concluded the groundbreaking program is providing benefits to low-income children and families in the nation’s capital. As confirmed by the report, students offered a scholarship – whether they use that scholarship during some or all of their elementary and secondary years – are significantly more likely to graduate from high school. Parents of scholarship recipients are more satisfied with their educational choices and D.C. schools are working with families to become more engaged in their children’s studies. Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, issued the following statement: 

“The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was designed as an educational lifeline, and that is exactly what it has provided over the last six years. Parents whose children were trapped in dangerous, underperforming schools were finally given a choice – and thousands jumped at the opportunity. Opponents of this successful program continue grasping for any justification to starve it and deny its benefits to children and families in D.C. Yet despite their best efforts, there is no denying this program has helped more students graduate from high school and given more parents a voice in their children’s schooling. This program should continue to operate in the nation’s capital, and the arbitrary restrictions that prevent additional children and families from benefiting should be overturned.” 

In case you missed it, The Washington Post editorialized this morning on the program, using the results of the final evaluation to argue it is “wrong-headed” to defund the program and phase it out by denying scholarships to future students. 

D.C.'s successful voucher program deserves a second life

Wednesday, June 23, 2010; A16  

STUDENTS AWARDED vouchers to attend private schools in the District had significantly better chances of graduating from high school, and parents who sent their children to schools using scholarships were happy with having a choice of good, safe schools. These latest findings on D.C. school vouchers underscore the value of this program and show how wrong-headed it is to deny future students this opportunity.  

The final report on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute for Education Sciences. Although there was no conclusive evidence that the program affected student test scores, researchers found important benefits in graduation rates and parental satisfaction. The graduation rate for students who were offered scholarships was 82 percent, compared with 70 percent for those not in the program. Few things are more critical to future success than graduation, so it's hard to discount the difference that vouchers made for the low-income students participating in the program. It's also hard for those blessed with the resources to choose among good schools to truly appreciate the dilemma of parents powerless to affect their children's education.  

More than 3,700 students -- most of them black or Hispanic -- have been awarded scholarships, which provide up to $7,500 for private-school tuition, since the program's start in 2004. Students currently enrolled, an estimated 1,300, will be allowed to continue until they graduate from high school. But for reasons that have more to do with opposition from teachers unions than what's good for children, no new students are being accepted. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last year signaled the program's demise by rescinding scholarships already offered, and congressional Democrats refused to reauthorize the program. These findings should prompt them to reconsider. Said former D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, "The results of the study demonstrate what we've known for years: [The program] is making a difference for students who need our help the most. " 

[Click here to view the editorial online.]

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