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D.C. Residents Strongly Favor Restoration of Endangered School Voucher Program

Posted on Wednesday February 16, 2011 | District Of Columbia

Seventy-Four Percent Want Program Reauthorized by Congress

February 16, 2011 (Washington, D.C.) — Seventy-four percent of D.C. residents want Congress to restore and expand the highly effective D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, according to a Lester & Associates poll released today by the American Federation for Children (AFC).

The poll, which was released on the same day that the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs holds a hearing on the program's future, indicates that 75 percent of residents believe that the academic results of the program provide a convincing reason to reauthorize the program. A study last year—conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences—demonstrated that students who participate in the program and use scholarships graduate at a rate of 91 percent—21 percent higher than students who did not use scholarships.

In addition, 77 percent of residents agreed that "all options should be on the table" when it comes to educating D.C.'s most disadvantaged children, even if the scholarship program will not be able to benefit every child in the District. In fact, 83 percent of respondents believe that even if the program won’t be able to serve all children, it should be reopened for new enrollees.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which has benefited 3,300 low-income children since the program's inception more than five years ago, provides scholarships of up to $7,500 for children to attend the qualifying private schools of their parents' choice. The program has seen nearly 9,000 applicants over the life of the program, with parental satisfaction rates topping 90 percent.

“This is the fourth public opinion survey on this issue. The results are the same: parents in Washington, D.C. want choices for their children and they want the OSP to be restored and extended,” said Kevin P. Chavous, an American Federation for Children Board Member and former D.C. Councilman. “It is past time for Congress and the Obama Administration to listen to the wishes of the people of the District of Columbia and restore this program.”

Because the Obama Administration and some Members of Congress acted last year to eliminate the program, parents are rallying around bipartisan reauthorization bills sponsored by Speaker John Boehner in the House and Senators Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) in the Senate. The bills would extend the program for five additional years, allow new children to enter the program, modestly increase scholarship amounts, and reinstate a robust federal evaluation of the program. The bills would also preserve the three-sector federal initiative for educational improvement in the District of Columbia, which includes equal funding for D.C. Public Schools and Charter Schools.

According to the Lester & Associates poll, a significant majority of residents—61 percent—support school vouchers in general, and 64 percent approve of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Lester & Associates surveyed 501 respondents from February 9-12, 2011.