In a Washington Post editorial that appeared over the weekend, Thomas Toch and Phyllis Jordan, the leaders of the think tank FutureED, attempt to re-write the history of D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, the plan that provides private school scholarships to children living in poverty. We must not let them. From the piece:
“The theory behind the initiative is to give D.C.’s low-income families more and better educational opportunities by supplying them with tax dollars to send their children to private schools. Fine. But voucher enrollment in the nation’s capital dropped for four straight years, from 1,638 in the 2013-2014 school year to 1,154 in the 2016-2017 year. More striking, greater than half the new students offered vouchers last year didn’t use them.”
The decline in enrollment was a direct result of years of determined effort by the United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on behalf of President Obama to close the program. Former D.C. Councilmember Kevin Chavous set the record straight in the Post back in 2012:
“The drop in participants is a natural outgrowth of two unforgiving scheduling decisions. First, the Education Department prevented the program’s administrator from accepting applications after an arbitrary date of March 31 of this year, shutting out anyone who came forward after that cutoff. Then, scholarship lotteries for the 2012-13 school year weren’t allowed to take place until July, far later than many parents could wait to make decisions about where their kids would attend school in the fall. Nobody at the department can give straight answers as to why.
In practical terms, what this means is that only 319 new students were offered scholarships, despite demand for many more.
These roadblocks are part of a long history of the administration’s resolute opposition to the voucher program, from Education Secretary Arne Duncan rescinding 216 scholarships in 2009 to the department ignoring the positive results of a gold-standard study, conducted by its own Institute of Education Sciences, that found that D.C. voucher students graduate at a rate of 91 percent — more than 20 percentage points higher than those who sought a voucher but either didn’t get one or didn’t enroll in the program after being accepted. Because of the delaying tactics of the department, a credible — and federally mandated — new study of the program cannot be conducted unless the program enrolls hundreds of new students next year.”
The obstacles created by the Obama Administration were enough to have Joseph E. Robert, Jr. end his Washington Scholarship Fund’s administration of the OSP back in 2009. It was then run by the D.C. Youth and Investment Trust Corporation, a group that had no enthusiasm for the job. In 2015, OSP management was awarded by the Department of Education to Serving Our Children. SOC has the goal of doubling or tripling the number of scholars participating in the OSP.
Mr. Toch and Ms. Jordan state that the program costs $200 million. I don’t know where they get their information. The OSP takes up a minuscule part of the federal budget coming in at $15 million a year. As part of the three-sector approach equal amounts are awarded to the traditional and charter school sectors for a total of $45 million. You would really expect more from a think tank associated with Georgetown University.
The FutureED representatives also make a big deal about the percentage of students who elect to utilize the scholarships versus the number awarded. Let’s just keep in mind that parents fortunately have access to a plethora of school choice in Washington, D.C. In fact, it is estimated that 75 percent of pupils go to a school other than the one assigned by neighborhood. We truly have a high performing educational marketplace here in the nation’s capital.