Correction: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that a Senate bill would continue the program through 2025. The measure would continue the program through Sept. 30, 2021. This version has been corrected.
IS THE federally funded scholarship program for poor D.C. families being forced on an unwilling city? It is safe to say that thousands of D.C. parents whose children are on the waiting list for a scholarship do not think so. Nor, we would venture, do the 6,100 children, predominantly minorities, who have used the scholarships to attend private schools. For that matter, students in the city’s public schools who have benefited from the infusion of federal dollars that has accompanied the voucher program probably would not embrace the argument either.
So whom do members of the D.C. Council think they are helping as they urge Congress to kill this program?
Fortunately, it does not appear that the council members will succeed in inflicting this wound on their city. Congress appears poised to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides needy students with up to $12,572 to pay for tuition, fees and transportation to a school of their choice. The average family income for participating families is less than $22,000. A bill extending the program for five years and championed by outgoing House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is set for a floor vote Wednesday, while a bipartisan group of senators has filed a companion bill that would continue the program through Sept. 30, 2021.
Seeking to derail those efforts, a misguided majority of the D.C. Council, undoubtedly egged on by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and other voucher critics, wrote a letter to Congress objecting to what they portrayed as an intrusion into local affairs. These eight council members seemed unaware that the program was established in 2004 at the initiation of Anthony Williams (D), then D.C.’s mayor, and with the strong support of Kevin Chavous (D), then chair of the council’s Education Committee. Likewise, they were unmoved by polling that has shown 74 percent of D.C. residents support the voucher program, which, despite the specious claims of critics, has improved outcomes for its students without taking a dime from regular public schools.
Indeed, the three-sector federal approach has brought more than $600 million to D.C. schools, with traditional public schools receiving $239 million, charter public schools $195 million and the voucher program $183 million. At stake for fiscal 2016 is an additional $45 million. It is fantasy to think there would be additional monies absent vouchers.
School reform has brought improvement throughout the system. Yet, many parents still lack the choices and the access to high-quality education that city politicians take for granted for their own families. We credit D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and council members Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) and Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) for not seeking to deprive those parents of choice, and we hope their eight colleagues will rethink their position and put constituents’ welfare over misguided ideology.