Opportunity Scholarship Program not reauthorized by Congress

In a devastating blow to the children of parents living in poverty in the nation’s capital, yesterday the United States Congress failed to reauthorize the twelve year old D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program as part of the approved $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill.  Now, about 1,500 families will have to find a new school for their children.

The total annual cost of the OSP is $15 million.

As I’m sure you remember, reauthorization for five years of the private school scholarship plan contained in the SOAR Act legislation was one of the last accomplishments of Speaker John Boehner in the House before he left office.

In previous cycles in which the SOAR Act was extended, Mr. Boehner made its continuation a nonnegotiable part of omnibus spending bills with President Obama, who has been desperately trying to shutter the program since he first came into office.  It appears that we have witnessed the first casualty of Mr. Boehner’s retirement.

Definitely not helping matters was the call of D.C.’s non-voting Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton to end it.  Also strongly contributing to this terrible outcome was a letter sent to the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform by eight D.C. Councilmen, including the head of its education committee, opposing the measure.  Sadly, many of the members who were signatories to this document said before it was produced that they would stay neutral on this subject.

An ironic part of the efforts of these individuals is that now the District of Columbia stands to lose $150 million in revenue for charter schools and DCPS.  The federal three sector approach to improving education in the city, which included money for the voucher program as well as for charters and the traditional schools, is dead.

Did anything positive come out of the drive to renew the OSP?  Yes.  There was uncertainty about support from local political leadership for the program.  But it turns out that Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson sent a joint letter to Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi requesting that the plan continue.  In addition, when it looked like reauthorization was in danger, both offices called Democratic and Republican members of Congress seeking inclusion of the SOAR Act in the trillion dollar spending bill.

But in the end these efforts proved futile.  Funds were allocated to continue the OSP for one additional year; it actually does not expire for another 12 months.  After that the scholarships will disappear.






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