Monday | March 2, 2015

Bipartisan Group of Senators Question White House on Cutting School Choice Options for Low-Income, Minority Communities

Washington - Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tim Scott (R-SC) and James Lankford (R-OK) sent a letter to the President questioning the administration's decision to reduce funding for the school choice program in Washington, DC, as well as terminating all future funding for the program, in the President's Fiscal Year 2015 budget request.
The Senators voiced their support for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which serves predominantly low-income and minority families in Washington, DC. The four-year high school graduation rate in Washington is only 59 percent, but for students in OSP that number soars to 90 percent. Ninety-seven percent of the children who benefit from OSP are African-American or Hispanic.
The Senators wrote, "The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program provides scholarships for children of low-income households in the district to attend schools that their families otherwise could never possibly afford. Because the enrollment wait list for D.C. Public Charter Schools totals more than 22,000 applicants, disadvantaged Washington students have limited options in the district's public schools. For many Washington students, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is the only hope for an opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty."
Senator Scott is a leading advocate for school choice in the U.S. Senate. As a member of the Senate Education Committee, earlier this year he introduced the CHOICE Act, to provide more educational options for low-income communities, children with special needs and our military families, held a national school choice conference on Capitol Hill, and authored an editorial with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on the importance of school choice.
The full text of the letter is below:
Dear President Obama:
We were disappointed to learn your budget proposal cut funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and terminated future funding for this life-changing program.
Public schools in the District of Columbia are some of the worst in the nation. The high school four-year graduation rate in the district is only 59 percent. Only half of the district's public school children are proficient in reading. This track record is in spite of spending almost $30,000 per pupil.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program provides scholarships for children of low-income households in the district to attend schools that their families otherwise could never possibly afford. Because the enrollment wait list for D.C. Public Charter Schools totals more than 22,000 applicants, disadvantaged Washington students have limited options in the district's public schools. For many Washington students, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is the only hope for an opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty.
The average household income for students receiving scholarships under the program is below $21,000 - in a city with some of the highest costs of living in the nation. Two-thirds of these children come from families that receive food stamps and/or aid from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Ninety-seven percent of the children who benefit from this program are African American, Hispanic and/or Latino.
Despite the socioeconomic challenges facing these students, 90 percent of students who earn scholarships through the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program graduate from high school, and almost all of those students go on to attend college. The program's success and popularity among Washington families is reflected in the more than 3,600 applications received for the 2014-2015 school year. Simply state, this program works.
We therefore urge you to support the full, continuous funding of a program that is proven to transform the lives of thousands of Washington children, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
Sincerely,
Senator Ron Johnson
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Senator James Lankford
Senator Tim Scott
Related Issues:  EducationOpportunity AgendaCHOICE Act