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Who's really killing D.C.'s voucher program

Once again, Congress is taking a hit from some D.C. interests for calling it quits on the Washington Opportunity Scholarship -- the District's federally funded school voucher program. And, once again, the critics are aiming their barbs in the wrong direction. Their argument is with residents of the District of Columbia.

If the voucher program, which provides $7,500 annually to low-income D.C. students to attend private schools is so laudatory, D.C. residents, not American taxpayers from coast to coast, should be the ones who bear the costs. After all, D.C. children are the program's chief beneficiaries. City residents, however, are sitting on their hands as the program dies a slow but certain death.

It should come as no surprise that Democratic congressional leaders are effectively killing the program. They, and their union allies, didn't like it in the first place. The D.C. school voucher program was an initiative launched by a Republican Congress and supported by a GOP president. Only the most obtuse observer could have believed that last November's elections did not spell a change in plans.

Voucher proponents had an opportunity to demonstrate the program's worth, and they tried to make the most of it. To their credit, they convinced the mayor, the school chancellor and the majority of the D.C. Council to support the program's continuance. The only problem was the they wanted the program continued with federal funding. Congress is right to wonder: If the city likes vouchers so much, why shouldn't the District bear the cost?

The answer is as clear as it may be embarrassing to voucher proponents: D.C. lawmakers don't want to ask their constituents to shoulder the program's expense. Not that they couldn't find a way to finance the program. Anyone who has watched city leaders come up with creative ways to spend money on a new stadium, downtown buildings and lucrative contracts and earmarks knows that the city can find a way to spend if the will is there.
Vouchers, unquestionably, have their advocates. There simply aren't enough of them around. A D.C. taxpayer-funded program for private voucher students cannot pass in our nation's capital.

The mayor and council know it. Congress and the president know it, too. The fault, if there is one, lies with us.

By Colbert King  | December 16, 2009; 7:08 PM ET
Categories:  King  | Tags:  Colbert King  
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Comments

How dumb are you? The federal gov't supports an incredible amount in DC via all kinds of subsidies and entitlement programs that DC residents benefit from far more than other groups. This includes the DC public SCHOOL system.

The idea that the federal gov't shouldn't be involved or that they're even cutting because why should they fund this is absurd. Even you realize that's not the real reason. You yourself write that it's pathetic partisanship being put above what's best for kids in DC (of course somehow you're so blinded by your ideology that you're able to frame this disgusting display of partisanship by Dems as the fault of critics for not realizing it would happen. now that's twisted!)

You're such a hack it's pathetic.

Posted by: wassavi | December 16, 2009 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Charter schools have not proven to be any better than public schools, so why should we subsidize them with expensive vouchers?

By privatizing our public school system, we are letting private schools cherry pick students while leaving the rest, typically high needs, low performing students, to the public schools who are ever more deprived of resources.

Instead of charter schools, we should concentrate on fixing public schools. Give them money to public school teachers and you will see much better results.

Posted by: AxelDC | December 16, 2009 10:12 PM | Report abuse

Why should the DC taxpayer contribute additional funding for charter schools? Instead it could be funded by countervailing cuts in the bloated school administration, remember DC spends the highest amount per student in the US and has the highest proportion of administrators to teachers, alas with the worst results as well.

I also suggest that you check the meaning of laudatory.

Posted by: ianstuart | December 16, 2009 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Mr. King makes interesting points. However, Congress is closely involved with many aspects of D.C. decision-making, and, through the appropriations process, is also involved in funding key state and local programs across the country.

So the notion that Congress--which usually blindly funds programs for years on end (sometimes without sufficient review)--is pulling the plug on a program that is demonstrably effective is distressing.

The OSP's success is unquestioned. Kids are succeeding and making statistically significant academic gains, parents are thrilled with the program, the program costs less money to administer than the per-pupil costs for D.C. Public Schools, and the Mayor and City Council and Public Schools Chancellor all want the program continued. This seems like a clear-cut argument in favor of continued funding and the addition of new students. The OSP is so effective that even the editorial boards of the Post and the Times agree it should continue, in addition to USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. Talk about a diversity of viewpoints converging together in support of a cause!

The idea that "City residents, however, are sitting on their hands as the program dies a slow but certain death" is inaccurate. D.C. residents have rallied on behalf of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program like no other D.C.-related public policy initiative in recent memory. In fact, more than 10,000 parents and children have attended countless rallies, events, and vigils.

In fact, it is only because of D.C. residents that Members of Congress are even paying attention to the fact, or worrying about the fact, that they are caving to special interests and killing the OSP. Why else would Sen. Durbin need to stand in the well of the senate and make excuses for his actions--especially when the elimination of the OSP is couched in a $1.1 trillion spending bill. A $14 million program seems like a small point to tackle when discussing the bill that, quite literally, funds our American government (or at least most of it). But Members of Congress see the impact that this small and effective program has made.

No, Republicans haven't caused the ruckus. D.C. residents have, because they are rightly angry at seeing a beneficial program eliminaterd. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the right-wing crowd hasn't been banging the drum for D.C. vouchers--in fact, they haven't even mentioned it. The passion for the OSP isn't talk radio driven. It isn't astroturf. It's authentic, and it's coming from D.C. families who are being impacted by this decision.

Mr. King is wrong in his assertions, and I hope he gives the OSP and its supporters another look.

Posted by: schoolchoicesupporter | December 16, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Do I have this straight?
"If the voucher program, which provides $7,500 annually to low-income D.C. students to attend private schools is so laudatory, D.C. residents, not American taxpayers from coast to coast, should be the ones who bear the costs."

And: "The D.C. school voucher program was an initiative launched by a Republican Congress and supported by a GOP president."

So, are you saying the GOP is responsible for taking MY tax money and giving it to YOUR schools? Isn't that socialism, somehow? Aren't these the people who were supposed to be against taxes.

Or were the real "recipients" their chums
and business partners who'd invested in the private schools? Using public tax money seems to be OK with the GOP as long as it ends up in the hands of their buddies, doesn't it? Which is not a reflection of the value of the school voucher program---what I am really angry about is health care.....

Posted by: martymar123 | December 17, 2009 7:23 AM | Report abuse

Is this the new Colbert 'Bull' King?

Posted by: MikeMcLamara | December 17, 2009 9:12 AM | Report abuse

@AxelDC: "By privatizing our public school system, we are letting private schools cherry pick students while leaving the rest, typically high needs, low performing students, to the public schools who are ever more deprived of resources."

=========================================

So why can't we at least try to save some students who have a chance to perform well?

Maybe once DC schools can proove they can educate all children, then we can end vouchers and charter schools.

Until then, let these programs serve as a reminder of what a disaster DC schools are.

Posted by: Hk45 | December 17, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

prove, not proove. Jeeze, you would think I'm a DCPS grad.

Posted by: Hk45 | December 17, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

The Opportunity Scholarships are good for the children and families who avail themselves of them. Ultimately, by providing a competitive dynamic they are good for all DC schoolchildren. Whatever the shortsightedness of DC residents, Congressional Democrats should be embarrassed to abandon the program from motives of political self-interest. Please don't make excuses for them, Mr. King.

Posted by: Roytex | December 17, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

This was a pilot program and it actually worked. I say expand it, but instead of federal funding, just redirect current education funding from state public schools that will lose the students because the school and teachers are clearly not good enough.

Posted by: axxionx12 | December 17, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

DC and the Federal Govt. should let the program die. Why should even the most promising DC school children have any hope at all or a better future when there's plenty of money to be made selling drugs.

Posted by: iphony | December 17, 2009 2:24 PM | Report abuse

DC and the Federal Government should let the program die. Why should even the most promising DC school children have any hope at all or a better future when there's plenty of money to be made selling drugs or just hanging out around the District?

Posted by: iphony | December 17, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Look very very carefully at the results the program has produced and you will see that the gains among program participants are modest. Someone should explain, in clear language, for all to comprehend exactly what the gains are. A four month improvement in reading scores is not laudatory when the scores are still below grade level.

Posted by: felicerobinson1 | December 17, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

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