March 30 2011

White House Still Committed to Failing Schools

Sabrina Schaeffer

Today the House of Representatives is expected to vote on H.R. 471, The SOAR Act - or, reauthorization of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. But the White House has already released a policy statement announcing the Administration "strongly opposes" the program and expanding it to new students.

In the words of this administration: "Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve?student achievement."

There was a time not so long ago, however, when the Opportunity Scholarship program helped more than 3,000 low-income D.C. students escape one of the nation's most expensive and ineffectual school districts. It gave students and their families freedom to seek out alternative, private educational opportunities - the same way President Obama and so many members of Congress do for their children.

The results of even this relatively small choice program are impossible to ignore. A federally mandated evaluation found D.C. scholarship recipients were, on average, 3.1 months ahead in reading compared to their public school peers. And the longest participating students in the program were almost two school years ahead of their public school peers in reading. And in addition to improving academic achievement, the program also increased graduation rates.

Perhaps it's no surprise that it did all of this at a fraction of the cost of D.C. Public Schools. And I do mean a fraction. DCPS spend $28,000/student - yes, you read that correctly, $28,000 per student. (Just to put that into perspective, tuition at the elite Sidwell Friends, where the President and First Lady send their daughters begins at $28,000). The DCOS program, on the other hand, costs only $6,600/student.

The hypocrisies surrounding SOAR are almost too many to number. But I'll start with the fact that President Obama himself is a scholarship success story.  He was awarded a private scholarship that allowed him the opportunity to attend Punahou School - an exclusive private school in Honolulu. And, of course, he and First Lady Michelle Obama chose to send their two daughters to one of DC's most elite private schools...right after cutting the Opportunity Scholarship program.

IWF applauds House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) for pushing this legislation that saves huge amounts of money, increases student performance, and gives families a say over their children's education.  Too bad the White House is still committed to failure. 

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