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Disadvantaged Children Win As D.C. Voucher Program Reauthorized

Posted on Friday April 15, 2011 | District Of Columbia

AFC Hails Passage of Budget Deal, Restoration of Scholarship Program; Praises Speaker Boehner's Courageous Leadership

Washington, D.C. (April 15, 2011) — After an aggressive, multi-year battle to save school choice in the nation's capital, children in low-income D.C. families won a landmark victory today as national lawmakers officially reauthorized and expanded the highly successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

The American Federation for Children today praised the passage of a historic budget deal that restores and extends the school voucher program and provides – over five years – $300 million for education in the District of Columbia. The agreement preserves the federal three-sector approach to education reform in the nation’s capital that has seen significant improvements in student attainment.

The revival of the program—which grants low-income children scholarships to attend the private schools of their parents’ choice—was a key legislative priority of Speaker John Boehner and comes two years after Congress and the Obama Administration revoked 216 scholarships and prevented new students from joining the program. Though the Administration expressed opposition to the program prior to the successful House vote for reauthorization two weeks ago, Speaker Boehner’s strong commitment to the program was the key to its inclusion in the budget deal.

“We cannot thank our leaders in Washington enough for putting aside their political differences and for listening to the thousands of low-income children and parents that have, for years, demanded the restoration of this program,” said Kevin P. Chavous, an AFC board member and former D.C. council member. “With the return of the Opportunity Scholarship Program to our nation’s capital, many more low-income students will finally gain access to the educational options afforded to the most fortunate among us.”

"Speaker Boehner is a true hero to families in the District of Columbia," said AFC Chairman Betsy DeVos. "Without the Speaker's leadership—and the hard work of Representatives Issa, Emerson, Gowdy, and Lipinski and Senators Lieberman, Collins, Feinstein, and Alexander—today's victory would not have been possible."

AFC also extended special thanks to another hero for D.C. families, Senator Joe Lieberman. Senator Lieberman’s willingness to lead the fight in the U.S. Senate and hold important hearings on the Opportunity Scholarship Program shined a spotlight on positive results and gave families and children the opportunity to share their stories--an essential component to today's victory.

While many individuals, local groups, and locally-based national groups were essential to restoring this vital program, AFC in particular praised the leadership of Virginia Walden Ford and D.C. Parents for School Choice for longtime advocacy on behalf of D.C. parents and children; Kevin Chavous and the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), who, along with AFC and its sister organization, the Alliance for School Choice, led the fight for reauthorization; and former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, whose vision for helping all of D.C.’s children led to the creation of the federal three-sector initiative. 

With the return of the OSP to the District comes a wealth of evidence proving the program’s effectiveness. Participants in the OSP who used their scholarships graduate at a rate of 91 percent, more than 30 points higher than their D.C. public school peers, and those enrolled in the program saw significant increases in both reading scores and parental satisfaction. Over 3,300 students have benefitted from the program, and nearly 9,000 have applied since its inception in 2004.

Local support for the OSP is also strong, with three former mayors, a majority of current City Council Members – including Council Chairman Kwame Brown – with public views on the program, and many prominent parents and education reformers all backing the program’s restoration over the past two years. In an AFC poll conducted in late February and widely cited in the news media, 74 percent of District residents expressed support for the OSP’s reauthorization.

The program has been a lifeline for participating students, whose families have an average household income of less than $25,600. If not for the OSP, many of those students would otherwise be forced to attend a failing school in the District.

In addition to reviving the program, the recently-passed continuing resolution also modestly increases scholarship amounts for participants and continues to include rigorous accountability standards, nondiscrimination clauses, and necessary compliance by participating schools to all health and safety codes.

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