Statement from the American Federation for Children on 2016 Omnibus Bill

The American Federation for Children, the nation’s voice for educational choice, released the following statement from Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children on the FY 2016 Omnibus Bill:

“For parental choice supporters, 2015 left much to be desired at the federal level and in 2016 more must be done to allow federal education dollars to empower parents, especially hardworking low-income and middle class families who most benefit from school choice programs. Disappointingly, after several weeks of effort, Congressional leaders came to an agreement on the FY 2016 omnibus bill, but did not include the reauthorization of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), a serious blow to low-income families in the District of Columbia.

“Efforts to reauthorize the DC OSP received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The House passed a strong bill in October – the Scholarships for Results and Opportunity (SOAR) Act of 2015 – to reauthorize the OSP and make several critically important changes to improve program oversight, ensure previously appropriated funds could be accessed for new scholarships and parent engagement, and improve the federally mandated evaluation of the program. Efforts were also made, successfully, to reconcile differences between the House-passed bill and a very similar bill introduced in the Senate.

“Failure to reauthorize the SOAR Act in the omnibus bill also has implications beyond the OSP because it also authorizes funding for all three sectors of K-12 education in DC: the OSP, public charter schools and DC public schools. While all three sectors are funded equally for FY 2016, without reauthorization, it creates uncertainty for the future.

“There was some good news for charter schools in both the FY 2016 omnibus bill and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA) – and we applaud these positive steps forward. But for families in Washington, D.C. and across the country, there is much, much more that needs to be done. Federal education dollars should be leveraged to empower parents with greater educational choice. Families want and deserve access to all educational options, including charter schools, private schools and virtual schools. States are well ahead of Congress on this and their efforts should be encouraged and supported. Twenty-three states plus DC have 48 publicly funded private school choice programs; 43 states have charter school laws; and virtual schools are growing across the country. Greater innovation and choice will contribute to better K-12 educational outcomes for our children.

“We look forward to working with Congress in 2016 to meet the demands of low-income families in Washington, DC by reauthorizing the OSP and thinking boldly about leveraging federal dollars in ways that create opportunity and empower families to choose the best educational environment for their children.”