By Lindsey Burke and Virginia Walden Ford
"I told my mom not too long ago I would like to be president one
day when I grow up," writes Fransoir, a 7th grader and recipient of
a scholarship to attend a private school in the District of
Columbia. But if Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have their way,
his academic future could become another casualty in the war of
Since 2004, thousands of children like Fransoir have had
scholarships worth up to $7,500 to attend a private school of their
choice as a part of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program.
Currently, more than 1,700 low-income children are benefiting from
this opportunity. However, language in the current $410 billion
spending bill in Congress (passed by the House and now pending in
the Senate) would eliminate the program.
That would mean going back to D.C. public schools, a system with
one of the lowest graduation rates in the country despite spending
more than $14,000 per student, well above the national average.
D.C. fourth and 8th graders rank last on the National Assessment of
Educational Progress. And while last academically, D.C. public
schools ranked first in school violence, according to the Justice
The prospect of losing their scholarships -- and having to
return to the unsafe, underperforming public school system --
prompted students to write letters to President Obama asking him to
continue to support this important program.
In her letter to President Obama, 12-year-old Sakeithia writes,
"My old public school was not a very safe place. I saw a lot of
things a child should not see.... I feel I missed a lot in D.C.
public schools, but I am making up for it now. I love to learn and
will continue this with your help by keeping the scholarship
Paul, age 11, wrote: "In my old public school, people screamed
at the teacher, walked out [of] the school during class, hurt me,
and made fun of my friends."
Adds Fransoir: "One of the many reasons why I love my school is
that all my teachers make me feel like I can do anything, they take
the extra time to help me when I need it. If I never would have had
the scholarship I wouldn't be the person I am right now, but now I
have the opportunity to accomplish what I know that I am capable of
doing with the right support system."
Breanna, age 9, had this to say: "President Obama, I really like
my new school because I am getting all A's and B's. I love to read.
I'm in the fourth grade and read on a 5.3 reading level. I also
play the clarinet in the school band."
The letters also reveal the hopes that the opportunity
scholarships have unleashed in these young people. Dominique wants
to become an obstetrician. Breanna, a translator. Paul, an
architect. De'Andre plans to go to Morehouse College like his role
model Martin Luther King, Jr. and humbly hopes to "grow up to be a
The letters are a poignant reminder of exactly what's at
The D.C. Opportunity Program is making a tremendous difference
in the lives of hundreds of children and their families. Their
experiences should ring familiar to President Obama, who himself
benefited from school choice. He, along with members of Congress,
should put the interests of the children -- not of unions or other
political factions -- first as they consider this program's
"What this scholarship has meant to me is far more than can be
quantified with words," says Jordan, a senior at Georgetown Day
School. "Because of this scholarship, I am a better, stronger
person...this autumn, I will be the first in my family to attend a
"By allowing this program to continue, you are offering the
children of D.C. a future brighter than ever imagined."
Lindsey M. Burke is a Research Assistant in Domestic Policy
Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Virginia Walden Ford is the
Executive Director of D.C. Parents for School Choice and a Visiting
Scholar at Heritage.
This article first appeared in the Boston Herald on March 9,