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D.C.'s successful voucher program deserves a second life

Wednesday, June 23, 2010; A16

STUDENTS AWARDED vouchers to attend private schools in the District had significantly better chances of graduating from high school, and parents who sent their children to schools using scholarships were happy with having a choice of good, safe schools. These latest findings on D.C. school vouchers underscore the value of this program and show how wrong-headed it is to deny future students this opportunity.

The final report on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program was released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute for Education Sciences. Although there was no conclusive evidence that the program affected student test scores, researchers found important benefits in graduation rates and parental satisfaction. The graduation rate for students who were offered scholarships was 82 percent, compared with 70 percent for those not in the program. Few things are more critical to future success than graduation, so it's hard to discount the difference that vouchers made for the low-income students participating in the program. It's also hard for those blessed with the resources to choose among good schools to truly appreciate the dilemma of parents powerless to affect their children's education.

More than 3,700 students -- most of them black or Hispanic -- have been awarded scholarships, which provide up to $7,500 for private-school tuition, since the program's start in 2004. Students currently enrolled, an estimated 1,300, will be allowed to continue until they graduate from high school. But for reasons that have more to do with opposition from teachers unions than what's good for children, no new students are being accepted. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last year signaled the program's demise by rescinding scholarships already offered, and congressional Democrats refused to reauthorize the program. These findings should prompt them to reconsider. Said former D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, "The results of the study demonstrate what we've known for years: [The program] is making a difference for students who need our help the most. "

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