NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 25, 2006

Opponents of parental choice in education continue to undermine a fledgling school-voucher pilot program that's helping more than 1,600 low-income kids in Washington, D.C., get a decent education, says the Wall Street Journal.

In early 2004, President Bush signed legislation that created the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the nation's first federal voucher program:

  • It provides families with up to $7,500 each year to attend private K-through-12 schools.
  • To be eligible, a child must live in a family with an annual household income below 185 percent of the poverty level.
  • About 1,630 children currently participate.

But according to the Washington Scholarship Fund, the nonprofit group that administers the program, hundreds of children are bumping up against the income cap and are in danger of "earning out" of the program.

A subsequent provision, introduced by Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) retained the current income cap for students entering the program but lifted the threshold to 300 percent (from 200 percent) for students already in the program who want to remain.

This would be a very modest adjustment in eligibility, says the Journal.  But it hasn't stopped Democrats, including D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, from claiming that any substantial increase would risk displacing "genuine hardship cases."

But Sally Sachar, president of Fund, finds that notion absurd.

"The critics argue that by making this change, the program will not be a low-income program anymore," she said, "but that's simply untrue.  Even if we go up to 300 percent, we still have an average household income of $22,000 for a family of four, which in D.C. is extremely low.  And it's 113 percent of the poverty level, which is well below even the entry cap (of 185 percent) for the program."

Source: Editorial, "'Opportunity' Is Knocked," Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2006

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