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Save the vouchers
A worthy D.C. program deserves Congress's support.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

OPTIMISM THAT the District's federally funded school voucher program will be allowed to flourish is fading. Leading Democrats say that they are open to letting new students enter the program, but efforts to make that a reality seem to have stalled. Indeed, it appears that some Democrats' idea of saving the program is simply to let it slowly wither away.

The future of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives low-income parents up to $7,500 so their children can attend private school, will be determined within the next weeks as Congress decides appropriations bills. What's on the table is a proposal advanced by President Obama that would extend the program until the 1,700 students currently receiving vouchers have graduated from high school. But no new students would be accepted.

We have a hard time understanding the president's logic. The argument for discontinuation is that the program has not proved to be effective. Why then come up with millions of dollars to continue it for the next 12 years? Besides, scientific studies have shown clear benefits in terms of parental satisfaction and improved student reading. Why deny these advantages to new students?

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and a majority of the D.C. Council favor letting in new students. Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has been working behind the scenes to win support for a proposal that would allow new students to be admitted to slots vacated by those exiting the program. She believes that it will be at least five years before the public schools will be at a point where they will provide the right alternative for all parents.

Key to the program's future are Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), who head important appropriations subcommittees. Spokesmen for the two men assured us "no final deal" has been reached. We'll continue to hope that they will allow a worthwhile educational program to serve children who desperately need help.

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