Today, the editors of the Washington Post congratulate the D.C. Council members in coming to their senses by reversing their previous position and now urging Congress to re-authorize the SOAR Act which provides low income children in the nation’s capital with scholarships to private school. The reason for the change of heart comes down to the possible loss of millions of dollars for the city. The SOAR Act contains within it the three sector approach championed by Joseph E. Robert, Jr. that provides equal funding, this year equating to 15 million each, for private school vouchers, DCPS, and charters.
As explained in the letter to Congress from Mayor Bowser and eight Council members:
“SOAR Act funding for DCPS has been used to support initiatives that reward and increase retention of high performing teachers and principals. The funds also help attract more high quality teachers and principals to DCPS and to improve the efficiency with which schools are run. After years of decline, DCPS enrollment is rising for the first time in decades. Schools that previously struggled to fill their pre-Kindergarten seats have waiting lists and other schools are attracting families back into the system at grade levels that have historically lost students.
Public charter schools in the District represent 44 percent of the public school population of more than 85,000 students with 62 public charter schools on 115 campuses. Since FY2004, federal funds authorized in the SOAR Act have supported the acquisition, renovation, modernization, and expansion of charter school facilities in the District. These funds have also been used to improve academic achievement, teacher and leader quality and recruitment, instructional support, and graduation pathways.”
The Washington Post editors also point out that there are now more than 1,900 applications for next year’s 146 open Opportunity Scholarship slots. Going forward the program could be halted altogether. The strategy now is to have Congress give the green light for another five years as part of the 2016 omnibus spending bill. Without passage, DCPS and charters would lose $150 million.