(This post was co-authored by Evelyn B. Stacey, Education Studies Policy Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California.
The fact that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is still very much alive suggests that special interests’ stranglehold over education may soon be a thing of the past. Recently 58 Senators voted down an amendment that would have preserved the program for all eligible students. Last month, President Obama proposed a “compromise” keeping the program open for current participants only. No new students could apply, effectively killing the program by attrition. Enter Sen. Joseph. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). To “fully revive” the program they convened “The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program: Preserving School Choice for All” hearing on May13, 2009, conducted by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has even pledged to have a full floor debate and vote this year. Legislation to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has also been introduced on the House side. Invited opponents, including the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, were no-shows at the hearing-but here’s what they’re claiming in their latest Statement to Congress, along with the facts.
NEA Myth #1: “The program has not been proven to increase student achievement.”
FACT: The official government evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program concluded that “a typical student who entered the program in kindergarten would, by the time of graduation from high school, be reading 2 1/2 years ahead of peers who didn’t receive scholarships.”
NEA Myth #2: “[The program] was imposed on the residents of the District of Columbia.”
FACT: Parents of students in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program viewed their chosen schools “as safer, more orderly, and more disciplined.” More than 2,000 parents, children, and community members rallied for the program last month and presented District officials with a petition containing more than 7,400 signatures demanding the program’s continuation (p. 2, bottom).
NEA Myth #3: “The D.C. voucher program costs taxpayers approximately $14 million of federal money annually,” yet they are not accountable.
FACT: Even Education Secretary Arne Duncan admits D.C. public schools have received “more money than God for a long time,” $26,555 per student to be exact, “but the outcomes are still disastrous,” with D.C. public school students regularly scoring at the bottom of national assessments in reading and math. If opponents had their way, sending the 1,700 current scholarship students back to D.C. public schools would cost a whopping $45 million-more than three times the cost in dollars alone. The cost in lost learning to students is incalculable.
As Sen. Lieberman summed up, “There are some powerful forces allied against this program…We happen to have the facts on our side. We also have justice on our side.”