March 29, 2010

March 29, 2010 | Education Notebook on D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, Education

Coming Face to Face with D.C. School Kids

This week, The Heritage Foundation launched an ad campaign to highlight congressional hypocrisy.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program provides scholarships for more than 1,700 District children to attend schools of their choice. But the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress are phasing it out. Students currently on scholarship will be allowed to continue through graduation, but no new students may enter the program. This despite an increase in annual federal education spending to $77 billion.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has provided children in the nation’s capital—one of the most dangerous and ineffective school systems in the country—a lifeline to a better education. Scholarship families are happier, children are safer, and academic achievement is improving. In a city that has been struggling to improve public education for decades, the Opportunity Scholarships are one of the few successes.

The Heritage Foundation’s campaign, which includes posters at Union Station in downtown D.C. and buses throughout the city, features scholarship recipients asking poignant questions about the Administration’s decision to eliminate the effective and popular program. The ads are based on a mini-documentary produced last year by The Heritage Foundation called Let Me Rise, which is available at www.voicesofschoolchoice.org.

While this fight to preserve school choice in the nation’s capital will be an uphill battle, supporters, parents, and children have not given up hope. For example, just over a week ago Senator Joe Lieberman (I–CT) proposed to reauthorize this program for five additional years. He wasn’t able to sway enough of his colleagues to save the scholarships, but that isn’t the end of the debate.

The new ad campaign will require the Washington establishment to look these children in the eyes and answer their questions:

Maybe they don’t know we have higher test scores? Asks one child.

A federally mandated evaluation found that, on average, scholarship recipients were 3.1 months ahead in reading compared to their public school peers—a statistically significant gain. Furthermore, those students participating in the program the longest were nearly two school years ahead of their peers in reading.

Maybe they don’t know our scholarships cost less than D.C. public schools? Asks another child.

Scholarships give taxpayers, students, and families more bang for their buck. In fact, the $7,500 cost of an Opportunity Scholarship is half what it costs to send a child to a D.C. public school. In fact, the cost to educate a child with a D.C. scholarship is less than what most states pay to send a child to a public school. A better education for less money is a win-win situation.

Maybe they don’t know the President is a scholarship success story? Asks a third student.

President Obama is perhaps the most successful scholarship recipient of all time. A private scholarship afforded him the opportunity to attend an elite high school in Hawaii. Now he has exercised his power by denying the same life-changing opportunities to children in D.C.

The ads also point out that thirty-eight percent of Members of Congress have at one point sent a child to private school. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is on record noting that he purchased a home in northern Virginia so his children could attend school there, and President Obama sends his children to one of the most prestigious private schools in D.C. These public officials clearly value school choice—but unfortunately only for families like their own.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has opened the door for low-income children to escape some of the nation’s worst schools. Heritage’s ad campaign will help to ensure that more people know about the success of this program and Congress’s repeated attempts to stifle it.

Rachel Sheffield is a Research Assistant in Domestic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, www.Heritage.org.

About the Author

Rachel Sheffield Policy Analyst
DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society