NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 6, 2009

Washington, D.C.'s school voucher program for low-income kids isn't dead yet.  But the Obama Administration seems awfully eager to expedite its demise, says the Wall Street Journal.


  • About 1,700 kids currently receive $7,500 vouchers to attend private schools under the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and 99 percent of them are black or Hispanic.
  • The program is a huge hit with parents -- there are four applicants for every available scholarship -- and the latest Department of Education evaluation showed significant academic gains.

Nevertheless, Congress voted in March to phase out the program after the 2009-10 school year unless it is reauthorized by Congress and the D.C. City Council.  The Senate is scheduled to hold hearings on the program this month.  So why is Education Secretary Arne Duncan proceeding as if the program's demise is a fait accompli, asks the Journal?  Duncan is not only preventing new scholarships from being awarded but also rescinding scholarship offers that were made to children admitted for next year.  In effect, he wants to end a successful program before Congress has an opportunity to consider reauthorizing it.  This is not what you'd expect from an education reformer, and several Democrats in Congress have written him to protest:

  • The Education Department released its annual evaluation of the D.C. program last month -- without a press release or media briefing -- and it showed that voucher recipients are reading nearly a half-grade ahead of their peers who didn't receive a scholarship.
  • These academic benefits are compounding over time; the study revealed that the program's earliest participants are 19 months ahead of public school peers in reading after three years.
  • Nationwide, black 12th graders as a group score lower on reading tests than white 8th graders; the D.C. voucher program is closing this achievement gap.

Source: Editorial, "Arne Duncan's Choice," Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2009.

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