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February 4 2010

Death of D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program Would be "A Tragedy and an Outrage"

Vicki E. Alger

(This post was co-authored by Evelyn B. Stacey, Education Studies Policy Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California)

President Obama recently insisted, "I am not an ideologue." But as Hamlet might say, methinks the president protesteth too much. Contrary to his pledge last year to follow a "whether-it-works" approach to education reform, the president's budget effectively kills the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DC OSP). It reduces funding by nearly $4 million this year, with no future funding for current scholarship students after that.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program has helped 3,300 low-income D.C. students in recent years improve their academic performance and escape one of the country's most expensive, dysfunctional, and dangerous public schooling systems. Thanks to this program, thousands of low-income children can go to the same high-quality schools children of presidents and members of Congress do.

Experts like Kevin P. Chavous, a former Democratic member of the D.C. Council and member of the Obama Presidential Campaign's Education Policy Committee, know first-hand what that kind of opportunity means to D.C. schoolchildren. He notes that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is a success and "has become the most studied program reviewed by the [U.S.] Education Department." (See here at 1.51 and 21.25, too).

As the Washington Post reports, the president's budget now leaves the futures of about 1,300 Opportunity Scholarship students in limbo. "Indeed, one has to wonder whether the administration is banking on the possibility that students will drop out of the program," the Post speculates, adding:

What easier way to get rid of this pesky program that's so despised by the teachers unions and other traditional allies of the Democrats? It's troubling that an administration that supposedly prides itself on supporting "what works" is so willing to pull the plug on a program that, according to a rigorous scientific study, has proven to be effective.

Thankfully, Senators Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) held a press conference this morning to fight for reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. "At a time when our country is seeking ways to improve education results, we are unfortunately forced to fight to keep alive a program that has proven results," declared Sen. Lieberman. "That is a tragedy and an outrage."

With leaders like these, the tale of deserving D.C. schoolchildren may get a brighter epilogue than the one "President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress" have drafted.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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