The Washington Post’s Moriah Balingit revealed on Thursday that Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Mark Meadow have introduced a bill in the United States Congress called the Educational Freedom Accounts Act that would offer a private school scholarship to any child residing in the District of Columbia. Currently, D.C. has America’s only federally funded private school voucher plan, the Opportunity Scholarship Program, but it is limited to those families living in poverty. About 1,100 pupils currently participate in the OSP. This legislation would permit any student in grades Kindergarten through 12 to take advantage of a private school scholarship, and depending upon family income, it would provide 80 to 90 percent of the money allocated annually to teach kids through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. The dollars would be deposited in individual educational savings accounts.
The timing of this news comes as an interesting coincidence. Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the passing away from brain cancer of Joseph E. Robert, Jr. When he was alive Mr. Robert created the Washington Scholarship Fund that awarded private school tuition for low-income children. When the federal voucher program was enacted the same organization became the administrator. He was a steadfast fighter for the continuation of the OSP, even in the face of eight years of effort by the Obama administration to shut it down. Fortunately, with Serving Our Children now running the OSP, it is expected to at least triple in size.
The only problem I can see with the bill is the proposed funding level. Ms. Balingit points out in her article that today’s per student funding is equal to about $9,500 a year. Therefore, a middle class family with a child in the sixth grade, for example, would receive 80 percent of this amount which equals $7,500; lower than the $8,653 currently paid under the OSP. Moreover, the existing OSP scholarship levels are already too low considering the high cost of many private schools in D.C.
But the introduction of this act is still exceedingly good news. After more than 20 years of aggressive public school reform in the nation’s capital, student proficiency rates for reading and math stand at a dismal thirty percent. For people living in poverty those numbers are in the 20s. I have been making the case for a supercharging of school choice in this town to get us out of this rut. Thankfully, Senator Cruz and Congressman Meadows have answered my call.