School Vouchers

Monday, January 26, 2009

EARLY SURVEYS of D.C. parents of children receiving federal school vouchers showed many of them liked the program because they believed their children were in safe schools. Over time, a new study shows, their satisfaction has deepened to include an appreciation for small class sizes, rich curricula and positive change in their sons and daughters. Above all, what parents most value is the freedom to choose where their children go to school.

Here, for example, is what one parent told University of Arkansas researchers studying the District's Opportunity Scholarship Program: "I know for a fact they would never have received this kind of education at a public school. . . . I listen to them when they talk, and what they are saying, and they articulate better than I do, and I know it's because of the school, and I like that about them, and I'm proud of them." Overall, researchers found that choice boosts parents' involvement in their children's education.

Whether they continue to have such a choice could be determined soon. The program that provides scholarships of up to $7,500 per year for low-income students to attend private schools is funded only through the 2009-10 school year. Unusually restrictive language being drafted for the omnibus budget bill would forbid any new funding unless Congress reauthorizes the program and the District passes legislation in agreement. Yet results of the Education Department's scientific study of the program are not expected until June.

We hope that, despite his stated reservations about vouchers, President Obama includes money in his upcoming budget to safeguard the interests of children in this important local program and to preserve an unusually rigorous research study. Mr. Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, say they eschew ideology in favor of what serves the interests of children. Here's a chance to help 1,716 of them.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company