Two top elected officials in Ward 6 have written to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill) opposing reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCSOP), asserting that some students who receive the federally-funded vouchers attend "seriously deficient" private schools or religious schools with discriminatory employment practices.
The future of the program remains in doubt as Congress decides on appropriations bills. President Obama favors extending the program until the 1,700 students currently receiving vouchers have graduated from high school. But no new students would be accepted.
D.C. Council member Tommy Wells and State Board of Education member Lisa Raymond, who also serves as its current president, said a small number of students, who receive vouchers of up to $7,500, attend top-flight private institutions such as Sidwell Friends, St. Albans, and John Carroll High School.
"However, too many attend schools with fewer resources and lower standards than those of our public schools," they said in a letter Monday to Durbin, who chairs Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government that oversees the voucher program. The two officials did not mention specific schools. But at a September subcommittee hearing, Gregory Cork president and CEO of the Washington Scholarship Fund, reported that two schools that took in 141 of the program's 1,716 students last year had serious issues. Ambassador Baptist Church Christian School closed for financial reasons, and the Academy for Ideal Education lost its certificate of occupancy.
"Furthermore, research has not shown significant improvement among voucher students or sufficient achievement gains over their peers that would justify the program," Wells and Raymond wrote. "Rather, the latest research shows that academically disadvantaged voucher students--those from schools designated 'in need of improvement' or with test scores among the lowest one-third of applicants--failed to demonstrate improved performance in private school over their public school peers."
Wells and Raymond, both Democrats, also objected to voucher students attending schools operated by the Archdiocese of Washington because of its opposition to legislation -- passed by the council today -- that permits same-sex couples to marry in the District.
"It is their clearly espoused doctrine and practice to treat gay and lesbian employees differently from heterosexual employees," they said. While they acknowledged that it was "unclear if and how the doctrine is communicated to students," they opposed the use of public funds "to support discriminatory practices in our city."