August 3 2009
New SOAR Act Gives D.C. Students Hope for a Better Educational Future
Vicki E. Alger, Ph.D
Here's a pop quiz. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program enables students to attend the same schools children of Presidents and Members of Congress attend-for about a quarter of the cost of sending them to failing public schools. Overall students who have used Opportunity Scholarships, which average $6,600, perform up to two years ahead of their public school counterparts in reading. Do you: a) restrict the program; b) kill the program; or c) expand the program? If you're President Obama or Education Secretary Arne Duncan, you picked ‘A'. If you're Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), you picked ‘B'. (See here, here, and here). Thankfully a bi-partisan, bi-cameral coalition of elected officials pick ‘C'. On July 30, 2009, Senators Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), George Voinovich (R-OH), Robert Byrd (D-WV), and John Ensign (R-NV) introduced the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, which expands the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). Under the SOAR Act, scholarships would increase from $7,500 to $9,000 for K-8 students and $11,000 for high school students. The SOAR Act would also give scholarship priority to siblings of students who currently participate in the program. The Senate bill comes on the heels of a another bill introduced in the House to preserve the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, and overwhelming local support for the program (See here, here, here, here, and here). As former D.C. Councilman Kevin Chavous summed up, "The only message I have for the Administration which I support dearly is, it is time to put up or shut up."
*Dr. Murray is co-author of the forthcoming IWF policy brief, "Down but Not Out in D.C.: Bi-Partisan, Bi-Cameral Efforts to Continue the Opportunity Scholarship Program."