D.C. Council sends misleading letter to members of Congress

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight & Government Reform is scheduled to take up re-authorization of the SOAR Act, which contains within it the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  In response, yesterday D.C. Councilman David Grosso, chairman of the education committee, penned a letter along with seven other council members to Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the house committee, opposing expansion of the private school voucher program for children living in poverty beyond those already participating.   The letter contains several inaccurate claims.

In the first paragraph the authors write, “. . . the voucher program should be phased out because participation in the program and similar initiatives has not only failed to improve students’ academic performance, but worsened it, as found in a series of recent studies.”  Let’s look at some data.  Here in the nation’s capital for the 2015-to-2016 school year the percentage of pupils enrolled in the OSP graduating from high school was 98 percent.  This compares to a 72.9 percent high school graduation rate for charters and a percentage of 69.2 percent for those attending DCPS.

The misinformation contained in the letter by Mr. Grosso only gets worse.  It states, “We appreciate your interest in providing support to public education for our constituents, but we strongly believe that financial resources should be invested in the existing public education system – both public schools and public charter schools – rather than diverted to private schools.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The federal legislation, through the Three Sector Approach, provides $15 million a year for vouchers plus an equal amount for DCPS and charters.  Money for the scholarships does not take away revenue for the other sectors.  As Michael Musante, director of government relations for FOCUS, states in a Washington Post story by Aaron Davis and Jenna Portnoy that appears today, “it was hard to fathom why ‘any Council member would put at risk a future $225 million dollars in federal funds over five years given to the District alone with little to no strings attached.”

I could go on all day, but I’ll draw your attention to one more line from the document.  The letter reads, “. . . if fully funded, the authorization would provide many more dollars per student for vouchers than is allocated per student in public schools and public charter schools.”  Mr. Grosso has to know that this claim is simply false.  According to its fiscal year 2017 budget DCPS is spending an average of $18,554 per student.  Charters get an average of $9,682 per pupil through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula plus an additional $3,124 per kid enrolled to pay for facilities for a total of $12,806.  Alternatively, the OSP scholarships are currently set at $12,679 each for high school students and $8,452 for elementary and middle school scholars.

A telephone call to Mr. Grosso’s spokesperson to discuss these discrepancies was not returned.

Both Mayor Muriel Bowser and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson recognize the value of the Opportunity Scholarship Program to our city and that is why they are urging Congress to re-authorize the program.  It is the ethical action to take for the benefit of the most vulnerable children in our community.  There is no time to waste.

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