August 4 2009
Cash-for-Clunkers: Education Edition
Vicki E. Alger, Ph.D
The "cash-for-clunkers" program gives car owners federally-funded vouchers worth up to $4,500 to trade in their gas-guzzlers for more fuel efficient models. Five years ago, Congress enacted an educational version of this program. Under the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, low-income parents can use federally-funded vouchers worth up to $7,500 to trade in their children's clunker schools for a top-of the line education at many of the same schools Presidents and Members of Congress send their children (including St. Albans, Sidwell Friends, and National Cathedral). Reported per-pupil funding figures peg the average D.C.-regional area public school amount at more than $14,000. D.C. public schools actually get much more, exceeding $27,000 per pupil, yet they rank lowest nationally in reading performance (see the "at or above basic" columns for 4th grade reading, 8th grade reading). In contrast, the average Opportunity Scholarship voucher amounts to $6,600, and participating students perform as much as two and a half years ahead of their public school peers in reading. Yet instead of expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and some Members of Congress apparently prefer the status-quo policy of more cash-to-clunkers. Thankfully a bi-partisan, bi-cameral coalition of Congress Members has introduced plans to expand the Opportunity Scholarship Program to keep D.C. parents in the driver's seat and their children out of educational jalopies.
*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."