There is breaking news this morning involving the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the plan that provides private school scholarships to students living in poverty. In a stunning reversal from last October when Congress was in the process of passing its most recent omnibus spending bill, eight members of the D.C. Council and Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton have now publicly called for re-authorization of the Soar Act, the legislation that contains within it the OSP.
Just five months ago the Council sent a letter to Congress arguing that the voucher program should be shutdown. Joining them was long-term OSP opponent Norton. These individuals made the false argument, among others, that the OSP had been forced onto the residents of the District by those on the Hill, against the wishes of local representatives. Here is a long list of Washington leaders who were advocates of the plan when it was originally authorized.
So what changed their tune? As an editorial last fall by the Washington Post pointed out in exasperation, the end of the OSP would result in the loss of about $45 million a year in federal dollars to D.C., funds that allocate the vouchers as well as aid the traditional school system and charters. Since the inception of the voucher program a dozen years ago the three-sector approach has resulted in more than $600 million in money benefiting our school-aged children.
It also did not hurt that recently Senator Cruz introduced a bill that would continue the voucher program using local instead of federal money.
To their credit, Mayor Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Mendelson tried hard to have the OSP re-authorized the last go around. However, it was a bold effort that came after all the other politicians had weighed in against it. Now, the Mayor and Mr. Mendelson have joined seven others from the Council in calling for the voucher program to continue for another five years. Signing the new letter to Congress that also were parties on the previous one are members Alexander, Bonds, and May. Absent from support of the OSP is the Council’s education committee Chairman Grosso.
Let’s now hope that Congress fixes its past omission and finds a way to re-authorize the Opportunity Scholarship Program.