OPINION: On Eve of Departure, D.C. School Choice Champion Signs Off

From Virginia Walden Ford writing in The Washington Examiner:

Over the past month, more than 2,000 parents applied for their children to receive a private school scholarship through the highly successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. After fighting to restore this essential program for more than three years, the sight of families applying is inspiring.

First created in 2003, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is the only federally funded voucher program to help low-income children escape often unsafe and underperforming public schools. In April, Congress reauthorized and expanded the program for five years, allowing thousands more District families the chance to participate.

This program has made accessing a quality education possible for more than 3,000 students—and the restored program will allow more families, including the families that applied over the past month, the chance to choose a quality education for their children.

But with filled seats and high demand, we cannot stop fighting for school choice in the District. Since the program was created, 91 percent of students who used their scholarships in the program graduate high school—more than 21 percent more than their public school counterparts. And the program has been oversubscribed every year. A lottery system is used to determine which students can participate in the program.

Working alongside parents in the District, I have been fighting for school choice—and for children—in Washington, D.C. for more than a decade. And I have been fighting for educational equality my entire life.

Growing up in Arkansas as the daughter of two public school educators and as a single parent of three children, I know firsthand how a great education can prepare all children for success.

In the next few weeks, hundreds of families will hear if their child will receive a scholarship under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program; but hundreds more will hear that they did not receive a scholarship and must continue to send their children to often failing public schools.

We must fight vigilantly to protect and preserve this program so families will never again be turned away from the chance to access a quality education for their children.

In the mid-1960s, I was among more than 130 students picked to desegregate public high schools on a large scale in Little Rock. Our nation has made great strides in improving education for all children since then; but our work is far from finished.

Success is not defined by waiting lists and lottery systems; success is providing all children with an education that will prepare them for a productive and fulfilling life. As for me, life will be changing a bit.