President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have promised to expand alternatives to public schools, including vouchers that allow children to attend private and religious schools with the aid of taxpayer dollars. One of the easiest ways for them to make good on that promise would be to direct more money to the nation’s only federally funded voucher program in the District of Columbia.
Now it appears they are planning to do just that.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, as the voucher program is known, currently provides tuition support for about 1,100 students. Serving Our Children, the organization that administers the program, announced Friday that it expects the program to expand by “hundreds of new students” for the 2017-2018 school year.
Kevin Mills, manager of family and community affairs for Serving Our Children, said in a telephone interview that the organization is expecting to expand because of new federal resources. He declined to say how much additional money the organization is expecting to receive, saying that they won’t have a firm number for another week or two.
Trump is expected to release his budget blueprint March 13, according to the Associated Press. A spokesperson for the Education Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment. A spokesman for the White House did not immediately confirm whether a budget increase is planned, saying that the process of developing a budget is complicated and has not been completed.
An expansion of the program would come as welcome news to advocates who spent the Obama years arguing for the program’s survival. Others, including some city leaders who see the voucher program as congressional overreach into local affairs, are likely to be less sanguine.
Congress created the D.C. vouchers in 2004 as a way to provide low-income families with choices beyond public schools. Since then, it has been a political football, with supporters (including many Republicans) arguing that it frees parents to choose better schools, and critics (including many Democrats) arguing that it provides public support for unaccountable private schools.
Researchers have found no evidence that the D.C. voucher program increases students’ math and reading test scores. But they have found that students are more likely to graduate from high school, based on data collected from families.
Students are eligible to apply for vouchers if their families receive food stamps or earn below 185 percent of the poverty line. They can receive scholarships of up to $8,452 for elementary and middle school students and up to $12,679 for high school students.