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Editorial: For D.C., reauthorizing school choice is the right choice

March 14, 2016
The Washington Post

IN THEIR zeal to kill off the federally funded scholarship program for poor D.C. students, opponents have peddled the fiction that Congress foisted the program on an unwilling city. In fact, the program was backed enthusiastically by then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and a key D.C. Council member, and parent demand for scholarships far outstrips supply. So let’s hope that a letter from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and a majority of the council urging continued funding for the program finally puts the myth to rest and helps allow more students to benefit from the program.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides needy students with vouchers to attend private schools of their choice, is up for reauthorization. As has happened before with all-too-depressing frequency since the scholarships were established in 2004, the program is under attack from unions and other opponents. If Congress fails to act, the city will also lose out on millions of dollars that go to its traditional and charter public schools as part of the three-sector federal funding deal.

The very real danger of the District losing $150 million in federal funds over five years apparently finally sunk in with members of the council. Three members who previously had urged that the program be killed joined Ms. Bowser and five other members, including council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), in a March 7 letter to congressional leaders in support of the Scholarships for Opportunities and Results (SOAR) Act. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) in a statement called the support of the mayor and council “an important boost” in the effort to get reauthorization to the president’s desk.

We hope so. Mr. Ryan is right that “when we

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Should the Senate Confirm King?

Should the Senate Confirm U.S. Education Secretary Nominee?

The Center for Education Reform continues its vigilance on school choice, particularly in Washington DC with the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), an effort we began in 1996 and that finally culminated in success in the 2004-2005 school year.

As the Senate HELP Committee voted 16-6 yesterday on the nomination of John B. King, Jr. for U.S. Education Secretary, CER Founder and Interim-CEO Jeanne Allen spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the power he has to expand DC’s OSP.

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During one of his hearings, Senator Tim Scott pressed King on why his prospective new Department would sit on $35 million in carry-over funds dedicated for the program.

King’s nomination awaits a full vote from the Senate. As good of a man as he is known to be, perhaps it’s time for the U.S. Senate to send the Obama Administration a signal that denying opportunities to students will not stand.

Related News: U.S. Education Secretary Gets Pressed on DC OSP

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Senator Scott Presses Acting Education Secretary King on DC Vouchers

Today at the Senate HELP Committee hearing on the nomination of Dr. John B. King Jr. for US Education Secretary, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), an ardent supporter of school choice, asked King about expanding DC’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (DC OSP), as DC students and families watched.

Here’s the exchange between King and Scott:

SCOTT:  One area that we may have to agree to disagree on is the DC OSP. I know there are parents and students in the audience who have a very passionate position, as I do, on the importance of the DC OSP.

Especially when you look at your commitment to equity and excellence, and the fact that we have a classic example here in Washington DC of a process and a program that has produced numbers and success in a way that’s inconsistent with other schools.

I believe the graduation rate of DC OSP students is around 90%. Other schools in DC are around 62%, some going as low as 38%. The cost per pupil for the DC OSP is somewhere around $9,000-12,000, and for other DC schools it’s over $18,000. So you get about a 50% better graduation rate, and 88% of those students go on to a two-year or four-year college experience.

It seems to me that the administration, and you as Secretary, should take a second look at that program, and look for ways to integrate it and to use to carry over money of $35 million dollars to fund more scholarships. And quite frankly this is not just my perspective but a bipartisan perspective. You look at the support of Senators like Ron Johnson (R-WI) as well as Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) who all have the same opinion of the DC OSP.

What can we do to move the

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Congress weighs funding for D.C. school vouchers

by Andrea Noble
The Washington Times
May 14, 2015

Shirley-Ann Tomdio, a junior at George Washington University studying to be an orthopedic surgeon, ticked off a list of accomplishments that would make any parent proud.

The daughter of Cameroonian immigrants, Ms. Tomdio earned honors before graduating from Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, was an editor of her school’s literary magazine, won awards on the track team and serves as a leader of a women’s empowerment group.

Speaking about her accomplishments before a panel of federal lawmakers Thursday in the auditorium of Archbishop Carroll High School, Ms. Tomdio credited her successes to her parents’ perseverance, as well as a school voucher program that made it possible for her to attend to the private high school.

“The scholarship has allowed me to build a strong foundation for myself,” she said. “As the oldest, I have to set an example for my siblings and most importantly, myself.”

Congress is gearing up to reauthorize funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program that aided Ms. Tomdio — a school voucher program that provides disadvantaged families with money to subsidize their children’s enrollment at private schools in the nation’s capital. Meanwhile, President Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget includes cuts to the program.

A GOP-controlled Congress established the federal voucher program in 2004, which has awarded stipends of up to $12,572 per student to send more than 6,000 D.C. children to private schools.

But since its establishment, the program has been a point of political contention, with critics questioning its impact on student achievement and calling on the government to focus resources on public schools.

Program supporters say it gives families a choice outside a troubled public school system.

“Despite spending more per student than any jurisdiction in the country, D.C. Public Schools continue to struggle when it comes to educating students,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican,

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Why is Mayor Gray jeopardizing aid for school choice in the District?

Letter to the Editor
Washington Post
April 13, 2012

The emerging centerpiece of education reform in the United States is parental school choice. All over this country, progressive, forward-looking public officials are supporting legislation that expands quality educational options for the children of working-class parents. It is finally sinking in that more quality options lead to improvements in traditional school districts.

For instance, legislators in Alabama and Mississippi are responding to parents’ outcry and are close to passing the first-ever meaningful charter school bills in those states. Similarly, just last week, a bipartisan group of legislators in the Louisiana House of Representatives passed a measure designed to expand statewide the successful New Orleans voucher program. Today, a growing number of leaders are realizing that true education reform includes long-range, systemic change along with immediate relief for families in need. Yes, we must fly the plane while we fix it.

Here, in the District, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of providing quality educational options, through innovative charter schools and our highly successful, federally funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, through which more than 1,600 low-income children attend quality private schools. But all of that is being threatened by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

The release of Mr. Gray’s 2013 budget proposal makes clear that parental choice is no longer a priority of his administration. In the proposal, he breaches a promise made to charter school supporters by not closing the funding disparity between charter schools and traditional D.C. public schools.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Mr. Gray’s proposal also zeroes out the funding for the scholarship program — matching what President Obama did in his budget. This action could ultimately imperil $60 million in federal funds intended to support D.C. charter schools, D.C. Public Schools and the scholarship program. This three-sector initiative has brought

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Snowe-d under

plowIn an attempt to win back her crown as Miss Congeniality among anti-school-choice Democrats, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) strolled to the well of the Senate yesterday evening to stab her fellow Mainer, Sen. Susan Collins, in the back by voting against the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. Ms. Collins is one of the program’s chief champions. Despite the courage demonstrated by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Bill Nelson, Mark Warner, and Joe Lieberman – who voted FOR the voucher program – Sen. Snowe’s status as the lone Republican vote against the program was anything but courageous. Whether she likes Sen. Collins or not – or whether she wants to curry favor with Democrats or not (she does), Sen. Snowe’s vote today left DC kids… snowed under.

(In another bit of Maine news, yesterday, the state legislature again denied families another form school choice when their Education Committee endorsed an “innovative schools” bill which had all references to charter school removed before moving on to the main body.)

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Lost in space

rocketIn the only public “debate” on the Senate Floor today regarding the highly-successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan demonstrated that he’s worn out his welcome in Washington, DC (at least in the non-Congressional parts of town). By telling families that if they want to send their kids to private schools (and thus, get an education) – they need to pay for it and by, strangely, saying that “if North Dakota were a country”, the state’s science scores would be second in the world—he proved himself equally bizarre and out of touch.

Sen. Dorgan thinks public education is something it’s not. He remembers his own school days and thinks classrooms in DC must be reminiscent of his youth in North Dakota. How wrong he is….

The lesson was right in front of him, but perhaps Sen. Dorgan was chatting in the cloakroom with his anti-voucher buddies when a truly esteemed Senator spoke and eloquently described the true need for DC school vouchers. Perhaps he missed the oversized posters that the venerable Sen. Dianne Feinstein brought with her to the well of the Senate today – posters that depicted parents and kids who can’t, as he posited, just “pay for the tuition” themselves – but whose futures have been saved by the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Did he miss it? Or does he choose to ignore it?

So while Byron “Lost in Space” Dorgan prattled on with a strange, troubling analogy – which included the argument that the US has talented astronauts, therefore DC kids do not deserve vouchers – the only man in either chamber of Congress who has actually flown in space, real astronaut Bill Nelson (D-FL), voted in favor of the the DCOSP tonight. We suppose he’s much

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How dare you?

schoolchoicecapitolDespite the adage that you get more bees with honey, I will not sit idly by and allow Congressman Jose Serrano, Democrat from Bronx, NY, write an opinion for The Washington Post that is layered with obfuscation and misperceptions, without calling him on it.

Serrano is suddenly the focus of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program‘s supporters, forced by the unique circumstances of the federal government’s oversight of the District of Columbia, which he manages as chair of a nebulous Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. Serrano is apparently angered that this position begets him calls from all over the nation – from people of all stripes and walks of life, who want children to have what they deserve and rarely get in the District’s traditional public schools – a good education that is also safe, also preparatory for life.

Serrano’s attitude to these calls – and the children affected – can best be considered ignorance. He says that local people should lobby their local leaders, as if their local leaders have the authority to spend federal money. By doing so, he also ignores that local people HAVE lobbied local leaders – tens of thousands of them – and those local leaders have endorsed the program and written Congress about that endorsement. The Mayor, the Chancellor of the city’s schools, a majority of the City Council, the former Mayor, the former City Council Education Chair, the Mayor’s staff. These are not Republicans, as Serrano wants us all to believe. These are Democrats, and predominantly people of color, who understand and care deeply about the people of this city, and who are happy to draw help from anyone who can or would want to help them, regardless of

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A Rush to Judgement

judgeSenator Durbin used Wednesday’s hearing on Washington, DC public schools to broadcast what feels like a last ditch effort on his part to remove continuation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program from consideration, and frankly, making thinly veiled accusations of mismanagement and fraud when he himself admits to lacking all of the details speaks of desperation.

While there may be a legitimate question of the program’s transparency, if that truly is an obstacle to continuation, it is one that can easily be removed. What cannot be questioned is the fact that DC OSP families have seen the education and futures of their students dramatically changed for the better because of their participation.

Perhaps the most scrutinized and vetted federal education reform program in history, mountains of research and hours of testimony before Congress by experts, educators, parents and students should speak for itself, pointing to increased student achievement, safety and satisfaction.

This small $14 million program has proven itself to be effective on many levels, and yet billions upon billions are heaped into pork legislation, pet projects and favors without so much as a raised eyebrow? This year, public schools across the country have been the recipients of the largest influx of monies ever allotted to education. Rather than fighting what works, Senator Durbin and his teachers union supporters would better serve the kids he so strongly “defends” in his war on the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program by thoroughly following the $100 billion pledged to the country’s schools and ensuring that it not continue to fund failing and broken programs.

Save Opportunity

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It's not what you say

homerunIt looks like RNC Chariman Michael Steele beat us to the punch and hit one out of the park for DC kids on last night’s Hardball when he pointed out the disconnect between President Obama’s incredible speech to the NAACP and his near sweeping under the rug of the successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

“You can go to the NAACP and say a lot, but it’s what you do (that matters),” countered Steele when Matthews praised the hardball words of Obama in New York.

Chris Matthews was right on target with the issue, said it was an area he and Steele agreed upon, that “Opportunity Scholarships should be maintained”, and pointed out it was the education Sonia Sotomayor received at Cardinal Spellman High School, a Catholic school in the Bronx, that was a key factor in her success.

Chris Matthews and Michael Steele join a growing list of powerful endorsements for scholarships providing a way out – and a way up – for DC students.

How many more need to speak out before the Administration and Congress listen?

Take a look for yourself (discussion of DCOSP begins at the 6:45 mark).

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