School choice advocates are gearing up for a final push this week to try to get U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to reverse his decision to rescind scholarships for 216 low-income District students.
The advocates, led by D.C. Parents for School Choice and DC Children First, are planning radio, newspaper and Internet ads. The advocates, who have formed www.savethe216.com, are also holding a vigil at noon Thursday outside the U.S. Department of Education.
The campaign, billed as a major escalation of their efforts, is designed to get Duncan to reinstate the scholarships before the school year begins.
"Time is truly running out for Secretary Duncan to reverse his disastrous decision and to save these 216 children," said former Ward 7 D.C. Council member Kevin Chavous, a Democrat who is heading up efforts to save the students' scholarships. "Scholarship money is already available for the 216 students and there is no law or regulation preventing them from accessing these scholarships. Secretary Duncan needs to show the nation that this administration is serious about reforming education."
The dispute centers on the federally funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers of as much as $7,500 for low-income students to attend the school of their choice. But the program is threatened by the broader political debate on Capitol Hill about using public money to send children to private schools.
With the fate of the program unclear, Duncan decided in March not to admit new students, including the 216 who had been approved to enter it this fall.
"When I received that letter, it was like a slap in the face," LaTasha Bennett, a parent of one of the students who had their scholarship revoked, said in a statement announcing this week's campaign. "I sincerely hope that Secretary Duncan will restore the dreams and educational futures of my children this week."