Thursday of last week a reconstituted SOAR Act, the legislation that contains within it the Opportunity Scholarship Program, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. This is the second time in about six months that the bill that provides private school vouchers for children living in poverty has received an affirmative vote.
This is a prelude to getting the plan through the Senate and signed by the President. This didn’t work out well towards the end of 2015 when it appeared that the retirement of Speaker Boenhner left school choice advocates flatfooted and unprepared with how to deal with strong Democratic Party opposition led by Congresswoman Pelosi.
Fortunately, there has been much work done since that go-around. Solid support for a five year re-authorization has been expressed by the D.C. Mayor, the Chairman of the D.C. Council, eight of his fellow Council members, and in a really bizarre change-of-heart, D.C.’s non-voting Congressional Representative. But none of this should be anywhere near this hard.
The OSP simply grants scholarships to poor families to enroll their kids in the same type of school that President Obama’s daughters attend. There are many fine institutions that accept the vouchers such as Sidwell Friends, where Malia and Sasha go, the St. Peters School, Archbishop Carroll High School, and Gonzaga College High School. A couple of years ago I interviewed the principal of St. Peters whose scholars at the time were completing a Student Families project through Catholic Charities. The activity, which assembles breakfast meals for temporarily homeless individuals, is named after Joseph E. Robert, Jr., the man who when he was alive championed the OSP through the Three-Sector Approach that provides an equal amount of federal funding for DCPS, charters, and the private school vouchers. At the time about 10 OSP students were at St. Peters.
The total cost of the plan is $45 million a year.
If providing a life-line to the most vulnerable among us is this hard, we really have to wonder what is being taught in our public schools.