the U.S. Department of Education’s Instituteof Education Sciences(IES), showed nosignicant increase intest scores comparedto D.C. public schoolstudents. As a result, in2009, the Democratic-controlled Congressvoted to end furtherfunding for theprogram—althoughit permitted currentlyenrolled voucherstudents to remain intheir private schoolsuntil graduation.“Most Districtresidents would muchrather we focus on thequality of educationfor all of our childreninstead of things thathave shown not tohave a measurableeffect,” said Iris Toyer,former chair of ParentsUnited, a well-knowneducational advocacygroup that lobbies forfull funding of D.C.public schools.Last Congress,the Senate defeatedan amendment toreauthorize the programby a vote of 55-42.However, in a show of power, House Speaker JohnBoehner (R-Ohio) and Sen.Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.)—both longtime supportersof school choice—haveintroduced legislation (H.R.471 and S. 206) to sanctionthe voucher program again,with an added caveat thatallows vouchers to familiesregardless of income.In a statement, Boehnerpointed to the benets of theprogram, including a 2010IES report that showed thatthe graduation rates for theOpportunity Scholarshipstudents exceeded thoseof their public schoolcounterparts by 12 percent.Still, some questionwhether voucher fundswouldn’t be better spent onimproving graduation andother outcomes at the city’spublic schools.“Vouchers have nothingto do with the education of children of D.C.,” said Toyer,a former elected D.C. Boardof Education member. “It’sreally about a ideology thatthe Republicans would liketo use nationwide with publiceducation that they would notbe able to pass in their ownrespective jurisdictions.”Since 1964, the BlackStudent Fund (BSF) hasbeen helping students whowanted to attend privateschools without governmentfunding. The mission of theorganization is to desegregateprivate schools. BSF opposedthe voucher program. “Wedon’t want private schoolsto replace public schools.The current voucher programseems set out to destroypublic schools,” said WalterAllen, academic advisor forthe Black Student Fund.Del. Eleanor HolmesNorton (D-D.C.) said thatBoehner is ignoring botha compromise reached onthis issue, and the home-rule public charter schoolalternative strongly preferredby District residents. “TheDistrict’s home-rule publiccharter school alternativehas become a model forthe nation,” she said, “andcharter schools enjoystrong bipartisan support inCongress.”Surprisingly, MayorVincent Gray and DC CouncilChair Kwame Brown havediffering opinions on theissue.Aligning himself withNorton, Gray shares thesame position of the Obamaadministration that studentscurrently in the programshould be allowed to completeit but no new public fundsshould go to private schools.“The mayor’s position hasnot changed in the wake of new legislation. Gray opposesvouchers but he supportscurrent recipients receivingthem until they graduate fromhigh school,” said DoxieMcCoy, spokeswoman forthe mayor. “The mayor feelsstrongly that this is a homerule issue and these decisionsshould rest with the residentsof the District of Columbia.”Brown, however, is infavor of vouchers. “Everyparent should have options inchoosing quality schools fortheir child to attend. My focusis making sure reform stayson track, so that every Districtschool is a quality school,”said Brown.Pro-voucher proponentsagree. Virginia Walden Ford,54, a northeast resident, wantsparents to experience what shedid when her youngest sonattended a private school. “Isupport good public, charterand private schools. Whenthere are not enough seats inthe good public and charterschools, parents need anotherchoice. This is what thevoucher program allows,” saidFord, an Independent voter.Currently, there are 55private schools that participatein the voucher program. Theaverage tuition cost is $4,500yearly. The voucher paymentis $7,500 yearly. Parents canuse the difference to fundbooks, uniforms and eldtrips, Ford said.
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The political wheels inthe District of Columbiaare churning up once againas House Republicans take jabs at Home Rule. Havingstripped the congressionalrepresentative of votingpower on the oor, andbarring her from testifying ona bill that affects the District,Republicans have alsointroduced legislation to re-impose the D.C. OpportunityScholarship Program (OSP).In 2004, Congressinstituted the experimentalve-year pilot voucherprogram in the District,a move that was met bymixed reactions—as isthis current legislation. Asyears went by and aftermillions of dollars werespent, independent studies of the D.C. voucher program,including a 2007 report from
D.C. Schools Voucher Program Causing Political Split
Photo by Valencia Mohammed
School voucher programs havespurred often acrimonious debateacross the nation.
so far as to do this ...“Just common decency,you think, would stop themfrom doing that. But thereare no bounds – Republicansare interested in suppressingD.C. in any way they canwith few exceptions.”Several measuresintroduced by the HouseRepublicans this yearthreaten to push back theadvances toward home rulethe District has managed toeke out in the past four years,according to Norton’s ofce.In addition to revoking theD.C. delegate’s vote, severalbills and the scal year 2011spending bill (ContinuingResolution), which wasreleased Feb. 11, would barthe city from using localfunds for abortions for low-income women or for itsneedle-exchange program,and would revoke a previousdecision and make the D.C.private schools voucherprogram permanent.The GOP assault reectspartisan motives, Plotkinsaid. “The House Republicanleadership is antagonisticto the District because it’sa question, simply, frankly,candidly, of political power.”Quoting now-deceasedSen. Ted Kennedy, who saidthe District suffers becauseit’s “too urban ... too liberal... too Democratic ... and tooBlack,” the political analystsaid, “You combine thesefour components and theRepublicans don’t feel thathelping the District in anyway, in terms of politicaladvancement, helps them –and they’re right. But to thinkthat they are so partisan andso dogmatic about deprivingand denying 600,000 residentsthe rights that every otherAmerican have ... they shouldbe embarrassed. But they getaway with it.”Plotkin said there istoo much “passivity andacceptance of the statusquo” from D.C. residents,lawmakers and governmentofcials, in referring towhat needs to be done toght back against the GOPHouse. There is no helpin sight from PresidentObama, who Plotkin saidhas been “AWOL” on issuesconcerning the District.“You’ve got to shamethem (GOP lawmakers);you’ve got to embarrassthem,” Plotkin said. “[But]the citizenry isn’t insultedand that’s the problem.This is not Cairo ... youdon’t see anybody in thestreet ... there’s no civildisobedience.”