WASHINGTON, April 15, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Beginning this September, children in low-income Washington, D.C. families will once again have the opportunity to use school vouchers to attend the private schools of their parents' choice—thanks to an historic budget agreement championed by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and signed today by President Barack Obama.
The Fiscal Year 2011 budget reauthorizes the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for five years, expands funding for the program, and increases scholarship amounts for students, providing even more children with access to a high quality education. The agreement also solidifies funding for D.C.'s public schools and public charter schools—ensuring that the era of education reform in the District continues unabated.
D.C. Parents for School Choice—the leading local organization promoting the program—hailed the reauthorization, calling it a victory for the thousands of parents who rallied, protested, and demanded equal educational access for five years, even as the program's future looked bleak.
"Today's reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should send a strong message to parents across the country who seek to fight for their children's rights: if you fight for your children and you never give up, the road will not always be easy, but in the end—justice will prevail," said Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice. "This reauthorization provides hope and opportunity to thousands of children in the District of Columbia whose parents only seek to provide them with better futures and a chance to succeed and achieve their dreams."
"There is no mistaking the significance of this victory," said Kevin P. Chavous, former D.C. Councilman and chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. "Low-income families and committed legislative advocates have triumphed over richly-funded special interests who, just two years ago, were writing the obituary of this program and trouncing the hopes and dreams of children. Today, those children have beaten the odds."
Under the three-sector approach to federal education funding—which is restored in the new budget agreement—$20 million per year will be dedicated to the OSP, while $20 million goes to D.C. public schools and $20 million is allocated for the District's public charter schools. In total, the five-year authorization provides $300 million in K-12 funding for children in Washington, D.C.
Since the program's inception in 2004, students participating in the Opportunity Scholarship Program have posted strong graduation rates and reading improvement. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute for Education Sciences, students who were offered, and who used, scholarships posted a 91 percent high school graduation rate—more than 30 percentage points higher than the graduation rates in D.C.'s public schools.
Nationally, Speaker John Boehner, Representative Darrell Issa, Representative Trey Gowdy, Representative Daniel Lipinski and Representative Jo Ann Emerson championed the program in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the U.S. Senate, Senators Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Dianne Feinstein, and Lamar Alexander have long advocated for the program's restoration.
Locally, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was championed by three of the District's former mayors—Anthony A. Williams, Adrian Fenty, and Marion Barry. A majority of D.C. City Council Members with public views on the OSP support the program; Council support was led by Chairman Kwame Brown, an outspoken supporter of education reform and opportunity for all of D.C.'s children.
In a public opinion survey conducted in February, more than 74 percent of D.C. residents strongly supported the program's reauthorization. Since inception, nearly 9,000 families have applied to participate in the program.
"There is absolutely no question in my mind that this program has changed my daughter's life for the better," said Sheila Jackson, daughter of scholarship recipient Shawnee Jackson. "She is succeeding, loving school, and dreaming big. This is everything a parent could ask for. And today we are so grateful that other children will have the same opportunities."
SOURCE D.C. Parents for School Choice