Another silly anti-voucher article by Washington Post’s Emma Brown

At least she is consistent.  Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Emma Brown, along with newcomer , declared that a study has found a negative impact on academic achievement for those students participating in D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program.  The report found that in reading and math for students in Kindergarten through fifth grade, the pupils on average scored significantly lower than those who had applied for a scholarship but did not receive one.  For older kids, there was no difference in reading but the math deficit remains.  The findings were produced by the U.S. Department of Education’s research unit looking at standardized test scores.  Sounds like this story should be on the newspaper’s front page.  But are you ready for this?

The study looked at results one year after these low-income scholars joined the program.

From the article, let’s see what the experts say about the results.

“Martin West, a professor of education at Harvard, said the D.C. study adds to an emerging pattern of research showing declines in student achievement among voucher recipients, a departure from an earlier wave of research — often on smaller, privately funded scholarship programs — that skewed more positive.

 ‘I think we need to be asking the question: Why is this happening and what should we make of it and should we care?’ West said. He said weaker scores among voucher recipients may be a result of the fact that public school performance is improving, particularly in the District, where math and reading scores at traditional public and public charter schools have increased quickly over the past decade.”

I know Mr. West is from Harvard, but let’s listen to local hero Kevin Chavous who actually knows what is happening on the ground.  Again, from the piece by Ms. Brown:

“”These are kids that come from some of the most challenged backgrounds, and they’re just getting adjusted. It’s no question that the longer they’re in our schools, the better they do,’ Chavous said. ‘We have to look at the ultimate judge of the quality of the program, and that’s the graduation rate and the college-going rate.’ Chavous said the voucher program gave disempowered parents something they lack in many other parts of their lives: control.”

Students from the OSP have a high school graduation rate of 92 percent, compared to a 70 percent rate citywide.  86 percent have been accepted to a two or four year college or university.

The academic achievement of those participating in the voucher program is important, but this statistic needs to be measured over time for those enrolled in private schools.  If for some reason it is found that students are not learning at an acceptable rate, then the program will be improved to make this goal a reality.

D.C. private school voucher program to help more low-income children

The Washington Post’s Emma Brown revealed that the new group administering the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, Serving Our Children, announced last Friday that it expects the private school voucher plan available to low-income students to grow next school year by “hundreds of new students.”  The timing of the news was perfect as it came on February 24th, which is the birthday of Joseph E. Robert, Jr., the man who when he was alive championed the OSP as a civil right and whose group, The Washington Scholarship Fund, successfully managed it for years.

Ms. Brown states that “Kevin Mills, manager of family and community affairs for Serving Our Children, said in a telephone interview that the organization is expecting to expand because of new federal resources. He declined to say how much additional money the organization is expecting to receive, saying that they won’t have a firm number for another week or two.”

An inside source tells me that the resources to which Mr. Mills is referring come from the rollover funds that are sitting unspent from eight years of the Obama Administration’s efforts to restrict the number of kids that could participate.  Congress allocates $15 million a year for the vouchers in addition to equal amounts going to D.C.’s traditional schools and charters as part of the Three Sector Approach that Mr. Roberts utilized to get the original legislation passed and signed by President George W. Bush.  Approximately 1,100 scholars are currently enrolled in the OSP,  however with an estimated $20 million in surplus money  obviously many more pupils could certainly be helped.

The time is finally right for such a move with Donald Trump in the White House and Betsy DeVos as the U.S. Secretary of Education.  Also on the agenda is the five year re-authorization of the OSP, something Speaker Paul Ryan failed to do at the end of 2015.

School choice advocates such as myself are hoping that at long last the tide has finally turned regarding the continuation and expansion of this life preserver for families living in poverty.

The Democrats opposition to Betsy DeVos says more about them than it does about her

The headline of this article comes from the words of Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, spoken yesterday from the Senate floor as quoted by the Washington Post’s Emma Brown.  He is absolutely correct.  The fierce opposition toward Ms. DeVos is from those that want to preserve a status in public education that, as she stated during her confirmation hearing, is one in which one size fits all when it comes to teaching our kids.  Unfortunate for those on the fringe of the political left, including the teachers’ unions, school choice has already broken through the clouds and is shining its bright light on communities throughout this nation.

Ms. Brown describes a Capitol Hill event in which families were represented who send their children to charter schools and who take advantage of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the federally funded private school voucher plan here in the District for those living in poverty.  She mentions that it was one of 21,000 events across the United States currently taking place as part of School Choice Week.  The reporter writes that “Malik Washington, a senior at Archbishop Carroll High School in the District, said that the voucher program had been a gift for him and his sister, who were raised by a single mother working a minimum-wage job.”  From Ms. Brown’s piece:

“For our families to have the same opportunities that wealthier families have when it comes to school is beautiful,’ Washington said.”

In fact, it is the same experience that President Obama’s children have had since Sidwell Friends, where his kids go to school, also participates in the OSP.  So does Georgetown Day School, Gonzaga College High School, The Jewish Primary Day School, The National Cathedral School, The National Presbyterian SchoolSt. Albans School, St. Johns College High School, St. Peters School, and The Field School, among many others.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama went along with the unions and throughout his eight years tried to end the scholarships.  We now have a chance to greatly expand the number of scholars who can take advantage of these great educational institutions.

Do I wish that Ms. DeVos had done a better job at her confirmation hearing?  Of course I do.  But here is the bottom line.  During her career she has done more through our schools to help those that are less fortunate than 99 percent of our population.  In the face of education reform at the federal level that has been going on since the 1950s without much to show for it except billions of dollars being wasted, it is time for something new.

Former Mayor Anthony Williams supports her and that is good enough for me.  The Senate should confirm Betsy DeVos.

A thrilling EdFest 2016

Last Saturday my wife Michele and I had the great pleasure of heading over to the DC Armory to attend EdFest 2016.  Picture this:  hundreds of parents with children in tow visiting row after row of information booths representing public schools in the nation’s capital.  The timing of the event is perfect in that the common lottery, My School DC, opens today.

This is the third time for this annual gathering, which in the past was known as the Charter School Expo.  In one of the most visually symbolic manifestations of cooperation between the two sectors, charters and traditional schools not only share the same space; they are located right next to each other due to being positioned in alphabetical order.  In fact, you really had to pay close attention to determine whether a particular school was under the umbrella of the DC Public Charter School Board or DCPS.

Because of the significance of the occasion the leaders of each branch were in attendance.  Scott Pearson, PCSB executive director, traversed the crowd, speaking to many of the charter leaders manning booths.  Jennie Niles, the Deputy Mayor for Education, also greeted the guests.  I was extremely interested in talking to Antwan Wilson, Mayor Bowser’s nominee to be the next DCPS Chancellor, but Ms. Niles stated that he had been sent home because lately he had been seeing more of her than his own wife.  The Deputy Mayor added that she was proud of the job Mr. Wilson had done before his confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council just last Thursday.

We also had the pleasure of seeing Keith Gordon, the always upbeat chief operating officer of Fight for Children.  He was there with his two kids and if you include Mr. Pearson and Ms. Niles along with the two of us then astonishingly you had together five attendees of last week’s exceptionally elegant retirement party for Michela English, Fight for Children’s president and chief executive officer, held at the RIS Restaurant in Northwest.  Mr. Gordon becomes head of the organization January 1, 2017.

But the absolute highlight for us was visiting the folks from IDEA Public Charter School.  Michele was greeted as a rock star because she had written not too long ago a Washington Post real estate section cover story about the school’s partnership with the Academy of Construction and Design, which trains students at the charter to be able to work as electricians, carpenters, and mechanics.  Justin Rydstrom, the head of the school, welcomed us warmly between talking to prospective school parents, and Shelly Karriem, the program director, joined Michele and about five other excited staff members and scholars in a group photograph.  Ms. Karriem pointed out that right behind us was a framed copy of Michele’s article that Mr. Rydstrom had prepared for all to see.

We also had the chance to converse with representatives from Friends of Choice in Urban Schools and Serving our Children, the group that now administers the Opportunity Scholarship Program.  In fact, there were so many people to talk to it was exceedingly difficult to leave.  We are already looking forward to next year.

Which state has the strongest private school choice program?

Last Thursday I attended a fascinating program hosted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute around the release of a report by the American Federation of Children entitled, “Private School Choice: How Do Programs Nationwide Stack Up?”  The forum’s facilitator was Michael Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute. Whitney Marcavage, AFC policy director, took the audience through the study.  She explained that as of July of this year there are an astonishing 400,000 pupils across 25 states and the District of Columbia enrolled in 50 private school school programs.  Her organization only included those that “give parents enough assistance to actually make a different educational choice” and “provide parents with a variety of private school options, including religious schools.”

The breakdown of private school choice programs is as follows:  23 are vouchers like the one that operates here in the nation’s capital, 20 are classified as scholarship tax credits, five count as Educational Savings Accounts, and two were defined as individual tuition tax credit plans.

The programs were then ranked on a point system against the criteria of “broad eligibility for participation,” “high scholarship amounts and enrollment growth,” and “transparency and accountability.”

To end the suspense the private school choice program in the United States that scored highest against these three measures was Florida’s tax credit scholarship.  The Opportunity Scholarship Program in D.C. was tied for 13, marked down for the restrictive income limits for participation, the total dollar amount of the vouchers compared to the allocation for each pupil contained in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, and for the number of children enrolled.

The most interesting part of the presentation for me was the panel discussion.  Joining Mr. Petrilli and Ms. Marcavage on stage were Robert Behning, an Indiana State Representative; Max Eden, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; and Derrell Bradford, vice president of 50CAN.  Mr. Behning’s remarks caught my attention.

The Choice Scholarship Program in his state qualified as the number 1 voucher program in this country according to the AFC study.  Mr. Behning explained that there are a couple of reasons for the success of the plan.  First, the Representative detailed that a sizable number of families in his state qualify for the voucher, on a sliding scale, because of the relatively high income limit.  The large participation rate generates broad support for the scholarships.  Mr. Behning argued that voucher programs such as the OSP actually work against political backing because they are are targeted toward helping kids living in poverty, a population that often has the least influence at a public policy level.  This line of reasoning makes a lot of sense.

In D.C. in order to increase support for the OSP we created the Three-Sector approach.  This means that the funds appropriated by Congress for the vouchers also include equal amounts for traditional and charter schools.  But another way to reach the same point or even to drive up  community enthusiasm for the program could be to up the total number of children that qualify due to earnings.

Mr. Behning related that another component of vouchers in Indiana that has the effect of diminishing political opposition is that the scholarship level is set at 90 percent of the school system’s per pupil revenue. This means in practice that any child that receives a voucher lowers the amount of money being spent on education, providing the state’s representatives another 10 percent to allocate to other priorities.

The event provided much to consider regarding school choice in this country.







OSP passes House, don’t get excited

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.



DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp to close

There is shocking news this morning that the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation is closing its doors.  This is the same organization that former D.C. Councilman Harry Thomas, Jr. had utilized beginning in 2007 to steal over $350,000 in money targeted to helping low income youth.  He instead funneled the cash to himself for the purchase of items like a car and boat and to payback personal loans.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Davis reveals today that after receiving a clean financial audit only a year ago, “in a series of revelations that began in January, the [DC Trust] board learned that former executive director Ed Davies and senior financial officer Earl Hamilton had used taxpayer funds to pay tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of credit-card charges, including some for personal use. Some of the expenses charged by Davies included meals and travel costs for his family members.”  The board’s current members have determined that the group is insolvent and will shut it down.  Eighteen employees will lose their jobs as a result of the fiscal mismanagement.

In 2015, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who the Post states controls the selection of four board members, injected $700,000 into the Trust for youth violence prevention programs as a result of a jump in murders of over 50 percent.

The reason this development is so significant is that up until last September the DC Trust administered the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school voucher plan for low income children.  The Trust had taken over the OSP from Joe Robert’s Washington Scholarship Fund in 2010.  Mr. Robert closed the WSF, which had run the Opportunity Scholarship Program since its legislative inception by Congress in 2004, rather than battle with the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts to kill it.

In a fierce behind-the-scenes struggle last summer the contract for managing the OSP was won by Serving Our Children, a non-profit headed by board member Kevin Chavous and whose staff is led by Rachel Sotsky, the deputy legislative director for former Senator Joseph Lieberman when the SOAR Act was created.  The SOAR Act contains within it the three sector federal dollars that provides money for DCPS, D.C. charter schools, and the private school vouchers.

All I can say is that due to the efforts of many local heroes the OSP now has a home where the effort to improve the academic achievement of low income kids can be expanded and strengthened.  Despite all of the numerous political twists and turns the future looks exceedingly bright for this educational life-preserver.

Maryland creates private school voucher program

Today, the Washington Post’s

Ms. Wiggins reminds us that 16 states now have some form of private school voucher plan, failing to mention the Opportunity Scholarship Program here in the District of Columbia.  Similar to D.C., the teachers’ union vigorously opposed the scholarships, claiming that the program diverts desperately needed dollars away from the traditional public schools.  The OSP derives its money from the federal three sector approach in which Congress provides $15 million a year in increased incremental revenue equally to traditional schools, charters, and private school scholarships.  In Maryland, the cash for vouchers will come from the state’s reserve account.

Sealing the passage of this legislation was strong backing from Democratic representatives.  Delegates Antonio Hayes, Keith Haynes, and others made the case that the scholarships would significantly help black children in Baltimore.  The Post states that “former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is now the president of the University of Baltimore, also pushed for the scholarships, calling private schools ‘a lifesaver’ for many Baltimore students in need.”

It is great to see our neighbors to the north following in our footsteps when it comes to getting behind school choice for those who can benefit from it the most.




In State of the District address Mayor Bowser calls for re-authorization of school voucher program

History was made yesterday when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, while speaking about public education in her annual State of the District address from Arena Stage, proudly talked about her support for the city’s private school voucher plan.  This event is so monumental, let’s take a moment to reflect on her exact words:

“I have also called on Congress to renew the SOAR Act, which provides $225 million in education funding over the next 5 years.”

The number to which Ms. Bowser is referring is the $15 million a year in federal dollars for traditional schools, charters, and scholarships for low income students to attend institutions such as Sidwell Friends, St. Peters, and Gonzaga College High School.

Never has the chief executive of Washington D.C. so publicly called for continuation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program.  Thank you Mayor Bowser.

But don’t get me wrong.  All was not perfect on the public policy front on Tuesday.  Here is what Ms. Bowser had to say about charters:

“In order to do all the other things we want to do as a city, we have to get education right.  So with this budget we will make the largest investment in public education in our history – with a $75 million dollar increase over last year!

This means more funding for instruction, and focused programming in both our traditional public schools and our public charter schools.”

Not one mention about providing desperately needed facilities for charters.  Silence about the FOCUS engineered law suit which is desperately trying to bring equality to the $100 million a year in revenue that DCPS gets to which charters are denied access.  No comment about the 22,000 students on charter school waiting lists anxious to get into the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework Tier 1 classrooms.

Moreover, her statement about focused programming is in itself worrisome.  Does this mean the Mayor wants to try to micromanage what is taught in the sector now teaching 39,000 students?

We will come back to all of these subjects on another day.  This morning, let’s piggyback on the Mayor’s remarks and request Congress to re-authorize the SOAR Act as soon as is humanly possible.




Washington Post editors call for re-authorization of D.C. school voucher plan

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.