April 21, 2005 | Education Notebook on Education
Reviews Are In: D.C. Debut of School Choice a Success
April 21, 2005
Parental choice in education is catching on in Washington, D.C., as the nation's first federally funded scholarship program prepares for its second year. Public school students in grades 6 through 12 applied for scholarships at a rate of two students for every scholarship available according to the Washington Scholarship Fund, which runs the program. Fifty-nine percent of the applicants attend public schools classified as in need of improvement under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program is giving these students what NCLB doesn't: a full range of options that includes private school choice.
"The overwhelming parental demand for this program demonstrates that families are hungry for high-quality school choice options," said U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.
"Having a choice is just an important thing," said a mother of four students participating in the voucher program, one of many testimonies from District parents who want the freedom to decide where their children attend school.
In an impressive debut, a total of 5,400 applications have been submitted since the program began in early 2004. The Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF) received its charge to administer the program just over one year ago. In just 79 days, WSF processed 2,600 applications, enlisted 50 private schools to accept applications, and enrolled 1,200 students. This year, 2,702 families have applied for scholarships for the 2005-06 school year. Meanwhile, 13 additional private schools will open their doors to voucher students.
Recent results from the congressionally mandated evaluation of the D.C. choice program found that the program is off to a successful start as its first school year comes to a close. More than half of all private schools in the District accepted voucher students, and 70 percent of these schools offered tuition at or below the maximum voucher amount. This level of school and student participation is substantially higher than the first year of the Milwaukee program-the oldest voucher program for low-income students in the U.S. Milwaukee's program has seen steady increases in student participation over its 15-year history and is currently reaching a legislatively imposed limit of approximately 15,000 students. Efforts are underway to lift the cap on the number of eligible participants. Likewise, in Ohio, Governor Bob Taft is attempting to expand the Cleveland voucher program to other districts in the state.
Across the country, new choice programs are being signed into law each year. This past March, Utah Governor John Huntsman, Jr., signed legislation creating the nation's second voucher program specifically for special education students, the Carson Special Needs Scholarship Program. Parental choice options are under consideration in Florida, Arizona, Missouri, and several other states, in a state legislative season that has seen more school choice activity than any previous year. From Washington, D.C., to Cleveland, and Milwaukee to Salt Lake City, parents are finally getting more options.