On August 20th, dozens of elementary students and parents gathered in front of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) in a daytime vigil organized by D.C. Parents for School Choice as part of their SaveThe216 campaign to save the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP).
The D.C. OSP is part of a three-sector education initiative for public schools, charters schools, and OSP participants. The program, which provides low-income children with scholarships of up to $7,500 allowing parents to choose the education they believe is best for their children, was passed by Congress in 2004 and is currently funded through the 2009-2010 academic school year.
A series of studies conducted by Georgetown University and the University of Arkansas, concluded that OSP parents are “very satisfied,” “more involved,” and found improved communications with their children who have had “an improved attitude toward learning,” and “increased self-esteem.” A study by the Institute for Education Sciences at the DOE concurred with the universities’ findings and found participants had higher levels in reading “equivalent to 3.1 months of additional learning.”
According to a report by The Heritage Foundation, many public officials who oppose school-choice policies for their fellow citizens exercise school choice in their own lives.
Adam B. Schaeffer, an educational policy analyst at the CATO Institute, has a very pessimistic outlook for the OSP’s future. “President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats recently served an educational eviction notice to more than 1,700 poor children in the nation’s capitol,” he wrote in the Cleveland Plains Dealer on April 1st. “A small provision buried in the omnibus spending bill sets requirements for the survival of the D.C. OSP that are extremely unlikely to be met. The D.C. voucher death sentence is a disappointment for the movement and a tragedy for the children.”
Numerous reporters and networks including ABC and Telemundo were on hand for the August 20th SaveThe216 vigil—along with one counter-protest(er). A few yards away, a gentleman parked with blaring loud-speakers atop of his car in opposition to D.C. Parents for School Choice and school vouchers.
The man chanted “No on vouchers, support Obama, support DCPS.” When the children countered, chanting “Put kids first, put kids first,” the man countered “Put kids first, no on vouchers.”
“DC residents have already voted on this, and this is being imposed by these groups and interests,” commented Robert Brannum, who merely described himself as a protesting private citizen.
When asked to extrapolate on the reasoning behind his opposition to the OSP, Brannum, sporting Obama paraphernalia, argued that vouchers simply don’t work. “If your whole argument is that the system is broken, vouchers aren’t the answer. We shouldn’t be taking away valuable resources and tax-payer dollars that should be allocated for something else,” he argued.
Virginia Walden Ford, Executive Director of D.C. Parents for School Choice reiterated the fact that the D.C. OSP is part of an initiative to fund public, charter, and private schools.
“Not a penny comes from tax dollars,” Ford said in response to the counter-protester’s comments. “It comes from a federal discretionary fund intended for all three sectors. It is supported by a bipartisan committee in the Senate but there are many giant hurdles ahead of us.”
Many members of Congress who oppose private-school-choice policies for their fellow citizens exercise school choice in their own lives according to a report by The Heritage Foundation.
Despite efforts by Secretary Duncan and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) leading Congressional members to end the program, bi-partisan, bi-cameral efforts are underway to save and even expand the D.C. OSP. The Preserving D.C. Student Scholarships Act of 2009 was introduced by Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Howard P. McKeon (R-CA).