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D.C. School Crime Study Vouches for Vouchers

Researchers for the Heritage Foundation and Lexington Institute caution parents to read their new analysis of crime in D.C public schools with, well, caution.

Based on Freedom of Information Act requests, they found that police fielded more than 900 calls to 911 to report violent incidents at the school addresses during the 2007-2008 school year--the last year for which full data was available. There were also 1,300 non-violent crimes against property during the same period.

The report acknowledges that the numbers may be misleading because the Metropolitan Police have direct responsibility for security at regular public schools, while public charter and private schools, which showed considerably lower rates of police calls, often contract with private security providers. Schools in high-crime neighborhoods can also find themselves statistically attached to crimes that have nothing do do with the level of safety inside their buildings.

The lone school "homicide" in 2007-08, for example, was a body found by police near the rear of Moten@Wilkinson Elementary on Pomeroy Rd. SE.

But authors David B. Muhlhausen, Don Soifer and Dan Lips gloss over the biggest caveat of all: that the report is a virtual infomercial for the D.C. school voucher program, which had its funding cut off by congressional Democrats earlier this year. Heritage and Lexington, conservative think tanks, both support the program and want to see it reauthorized. No less than eight times in the 15-page report, they pause to celebrate the virtues of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which offers $7,500 in private school tuition assistance to qualifying students. Examples:

"High rates of crime suggest that "students would benefit if their families had greater ability to choose safe schools for their children. This is supported by surveys of families participating in the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program." (page 2).

"The 911 tape data support previous evaluations that found that the parents of students participating in the Opportunity Scholarship Program were more satisfied with the safety of their childrens' chosen schools (page 11).

"I see your point," said Soifer, Lexington's co-founder and executive vice president and a member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, in an e-mail today. He added that his main reason for the paper was "to address the question of school safety in a new way, one that could be compared with how dropout rates were handled up until the past few years, where the disparities between reality and official education data have often occurred in degrees of magnitude."

DCPS, says that by its count, serious incidents such as assault and robbery fell 17 percent between August 2008 and April 2009 and the same period a year earlier, from 1,353 to 1,117.

It is the second time this summer that voucher and charter school advocates have presented data to bolster their views.

In July, Heritage co-authored a report with a poll showing that 75 percent of D.C. residents find DCPS "fair" to "poor" while 75 percent have a favorable view of the voucher program.

But a look at the questions show all the earmarks of a "push poll." An example of the questions posed to 1,000 registered D.C. voters: "The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, worth up to $7,500, can be used to cover the costs of tuition, school fees, and transportation to a participating private school. In general, how much do you favor or oppose the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program?"

By Washington Post editors  |  September 1, 2009; 4:05 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque  
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