Hispanic Families Must Make Their Voices Heard in
the Fight for D.C. School Choice
By Lindsey Burke and Israel Ortega
Since 2004, many Hispanic children in D.C. have been given the
opportunity of a lifetime: a scholarship to attend a private
school. Five years after the program began, growing evidence is
showing that it is making a huge impact in these children's lives.
Unfortunately, it remains to be seen whether Congress and the Obama
Administration will allow the successful program to go forward.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) provides
students from low-income families with scholarships of up to $7,500
to attend a private school of their choice. Nearly 10 percent of
families served by the DCOSP are Hispanic.
A recent study conducted by the School Choice
Demonstration Project measured the satisfaction of families
participating in the program. Spanish-speaking families were highly
satisfied. "The majority of Spanish-speaking parents stated their
children are more motivated, focused on what they want, and
striving for improved grades," the report concluded. "The
Spanish-speaking parents were particularly pleased with the way the
schools their children are attending provide incentives for good
behavior and academic improvement."
That its future is in jeopardy should awaken supporters of the
program--especially those in communities that have traditionally
been poorly served by the public school system.
The D.C. public school system provides us with an example of
just how dire the situation truly is, illustrated by the dismal
test scores of district students. Less than half of all
fourth-graders are learning to read at grade level, and dropout
rates are alarmingly high. With more than 8,000 Hispanic students
enrolled in D.C. public schools, these facts should worry the
Spanish-speaking community at large.
Fortunately, the statistics do not have to be this dire. We can
look to Florida as a shining example of how to turn around the
education system in a state and make it work for all students. This
has been the particular case with Hispanic students in Florida, who
now outscore the statewide averages of all students in 15
states. Through reforms that included ending social promotion,
enacting performance pay for teachers, and holding schools and
students accountable for results, the Sunshine State is working to
ensure that every student reaches his full potential. These
reforms--coupled with robust public and private school choice
options--have put Florida's Hispanic students on par with students
across the country, a feat that many thought was nearly
There should be no reason that Hispanic students in D.C. cannot
achieve the same impressive results. Parents must be able to choose
a school that best meets the needs of their children. The success
achieved in Florida is certainly possible in D.C. and throughout
the country. The DCOSP is a step in the right direction toward
tackling this crisis head on.
As beneficiaries of the DCOSP, Hispanics must rally behind the
program that is providing some of its children with the chance to
achieve academic success. Every Hispanic child has the potential
for a great future--as a scientist, lawyer, even President. The
Hispanic community must make their voices heard to ensure that its
youngest members can achieve the future they deserve.
Lindsey Burke is a Research Assistant in Domestic Policy Studies
Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage