Obama Budget Says 'No' to DC's Low-Income Families
WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 4, 2014) — President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget provides no new scholarship funding for the highly successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), despite the program’s proven results in improving the lives and educational outcomes for children in low-income D.C. families. The President’s budget includes funding only for the statutorily required evaluation and program administration costs.
The OSP has been an educational lifeline for thousands of children from low-income District families since the 2004-2005 school year. The average family income of program participants is less than $21,000 per year and 98 percent of scholarship recipients are zoned for a D.C. public school in need of improvement.
“Despite continuing evidence that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has a positive academic and social impact on the lives of children from very low-income D.C. families, the Obama Administration has once again said no to these families,” said Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel for the Federation. “It is a specious argument to suggest funding already exists when the Administration has failed to use carryover funding to award new scholarships and has denied entry for other eligible children. The existing carryover funding is a direct result of poor implementation of the program, which was among the findings in a recent Government Accountability Office report (GAO).”
According to the last federal evaluation of OSP in 2010, 91 percent of children who used their D.C. opportunity scholarships graduated from high school – 21 percent more than those who sought but did not receive a scholarship and 30 percent higher than D.C. public schools. More recent data compiled by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation (Trust) shows an average OSP graduation rate of 93 percent and a 90 percent college enrollment rate for those graduates from 2010-2012. Ninety-eight percent of participating children are African-American and Hispanic, and more than 92 percent of families are satisfied with the program.
The OSP also contains strong accountability provisions. OSP schools are required to maintain a valid certificate of occupancy, make information available on school accreditation, demonstrate financial sustainability if operating for less than five years, agree to site visits by the administrator and ensure each teacher of core subject matter has a baccalaureate or equivalent degree. The law also requires annual testing of evaluation participants to determine student progress.
“The OSP had a transformational effect on my child and helped her become the valedictorian of her graduating class,” said Sheila Jackson, D.C. parent and advocate. “I just want to see more families in Washington, D.C. have the same opportunity as we did. This program works and should be fully funded.”
Since its inception, more than 13,000 families have applied to participate in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and more than 6000 have been fortunate enough to get a scholarship. Demand for educational choice in Washington, D.C. remains very high. The city has a robust and successful charter school sector that now educates more than 40 percent of K-12 children. Thousands of families are currently on charter school waiting lists and more than a dozen D.C. public schools have closed in areas where there are large numbers of families eligible for the OSP.
The American Federation for Children calls on the President and Congress to provide full and equal funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, D.C.’s public charter schools, and school improvement for D.C. public schools with $20 million in FY 2015 for each sector.
The American Federation also urged the U.S. Department of Education to use their administrative authority to allocate a portion of the existing carryover funds for program promotion and direct outreach to eligible families; to use remaining carryover funds to award new scholarships to eligible children; and to ensure that no eligible child is turned away as long as the program remains undersubscribed.
“Children in low-income D.C. families should not have to remain trapped in schools that do not work for them when other viable options exist right now. It’s a matter of social justice that no child should be forced to stay in a school that does not meet their needs simply because of their family’s income. The OSP addresses this issue and the program enjoys bipartisan support in Congress because members believe that low-income families in D.C. should have the same educational choice that their higher income peers take for granted. This is an issue where Democrats and Republicans can and should come together because it’s the right thing to do for these kids,” Chavous said.
The American Federation for Children is the nation’s leading school choice advocacy organization and works in states across the country to help secure additional, high-quality educational options for families.
Kevin P. Chavous is a noted attorney, author, and national school reform leader. A former member of the Council of the District of Columbia and a former chairman of D.C.’s Education Committee, Chavous was responsible for enacting numerous education reforms in D.C. Chavous also presides as board chair for Democrats for Education Reform and is a former chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.