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Results, Demand for D.C. Voucher Program Remain Strong

Posted on Tuesday May 22, 2012 | District Of Columbia

Despite success, Obama Administration policies endanger future participation

New data from the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation (Trust)—which administers the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP)—show strong attainment results, parental satisfaction, and interest from new families wanting to participate in the highly successful program that serves children from low-income District families.

Research released by the Trust shows that students who used their opportunity scholarships in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years had a graduation rate of 94 percent, and 89 percent of those graduates went on to enroll in a two- or four-year college.

In addition, parental satisfaction with the OSP remains very high. Ninety-two percent of parents are happy with their child’s academic progress and 98 percent intend to renew for the 2012-13 school year. The Trust has collected nearly 1700 renewals and 1200 new applications for the upcoming academic year.

The American Federation for Children (AFC)—the nation’s voice for school choice—applauded the results and data, and also praised the Trust’s management of the program.

“The data once again shows the overwhelming success and popularity of the Opportunity Scholarship Program,” said Kevin P. Chavous, an AFC senior advisor and former D.C. Councilman. “Parents want this program and have applied in big numbers despite very few formal application events. The folks within the D.C. Trust have done a terrific job managing the program and have worked tirelessly to ensure that children from low-income D.C. families have access to a quality education, and we thank them for their work.”

Despite the clear success and strong demand for the program, the Obama Administration is working to suppress participation. First, President Obama zeroed out funding for the OSP in his FY2013 budget, despite signing the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act—which reauthorized the program for five years—into law last April. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray followed suit, risking the city’s annual $60 million federal appropriation for school improvement in D.C. public schools, public charter schools, and the OSP.

Second, according to the Trust’s website, pending approval from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), the Trust will not process any renewals submitted after March 30, 2012. The program administrator has traditionally processed new applications first, and accepted renewals from current families through the end of the school year. The effect of this policy is that children currently participating in the OSP may be forced out of the program.

Third, DOE is imposing an artificial cap on the number of students who can participate in the OSP. This is a violation of the SOAR Act and it will prevent the statutorily-required federal evaluation of the program from offering any meaningful results. In response to congressional inquiries, Dr. Patrick Wolf, principal investigator for the Institute for Education Sciences’ federal evaluation of the program between 2005 and 2010, said that without the addition of several hundred new students, a credible evaluation cannot be completed.

“My professional determination is that at least 1,800 students need to participate in the study, in two annual cohorts if necessary, and at least 720 of them have to be offered Opportunity Scholarships in order for the study to meet reasonable standards for an adequately powered statistical evaluation of the program,” Wolf said in a memo to congressional staff.

A bipartisan coalition of OSP supporters in Congress, led by House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Joe Lieberman, has repeatedly asked DOE to adhere to the letter and spirit of the SOAR Act.

“It is simply outrageous that less than a year after the President signed the reauthorization of the OSP into law that his Department of Education is putting the educational futures of current families and prospective families at risk,” Chavous said. “This program helps the very families the Obama and Gray Administrations claim to support, yet their actions bow to special interests instead of standing strong for educational options that have proven to help low-income families.”

Since the program was created in 2004, more than 11,000 students have applied for the program and nearly 5,000 students have been awarded scholarships.