Vouchers Stand a Good Chance of Revival in a Republican Response to the State of the Union

From POLITICO comes the news that school vouchers (aka opportunity scholarships) will re-emerge as a key political and social issue in the aftermath of the State of the Union Speech tonight.  Vouchers allow students who qualify to leave failing public schools and attend parochial or private schools. They take with them most of the tax money set aside for their education and that money pays their tuition in the private or parochial school. In the District of Columbia a limited voucher program had helped a number of Catholic Schools in the city to survive. Their survival has been gravely threatened when the Democratic Congress refused to renew the program in 2008. The Obama Administration completely defunded the program in the 2010 budget. With yet another sea change in congressional power back to Republican control, it looks like vouchers stand a good chance of renewal in the District and perhaps elsewhere. Here are excerpts from the Politico article:

The day after President Barack Obama makes education a centerpiece of his State of the Union address, House Speaker John Boehner will try to force his hand on the issue of school vouchers in Washington, D.C. as a test of the White House’s commitment to bipartisanship.

The Ohio Republican, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), will introduce legislation on Wednesday to reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, the speaker’s office said Monday, making a school voucher initiative that Democrats, including Obama, have strongly opposed as a bargaining chip for beginning discussions on the administration’s desired education proposals. 

“If the president is sincere about working together on education reform, we should start by saving this successful, bipartisan program that has helped so many underprivileged children get a quality education,” Boehner said in a statement to POLITICO…..

Teachers unions have fought against the voucher program and Obama’s budget pulled funding for new scholarships after 2010…..

Obama is unlikely to showcase the program in his State of the Union address Tuesday night when he calls for reform and additional spending on education initiatives. But Boehner is planning to make it difficult for the president to ignore the issue.

 The speaker’s guests in the House gallery will include a student, parent and teacher from each of the four D.C. Catholic schools that participate in the program. About 50 D.C. schools participate in the program overall.

 The GOP’s outline of its top priorities, the “Pledge to America,” does not mention education. The D.C. vouchers funding could be the only bill Boehner authors all year, his office said to stress how important he views the program, and he is not co-sponsoring any legislation this Congress

Read the complete article here:  http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/48087.html

 This is hopeful news for poor children in DC and is also a potential lifeline for Catholic Schools in the city many of which are struggling financially. Stay tuned and pray!

Rally for School Choice

Yesterday just over 2000 people gathered at a rally for School choice. As you may be aware, the Congress recently voted to suspend the Opportunity Scholarship Program in the District of Columbia. The program allowed students who qualified to receive up $7,500 to attend the private school of their parent’s choice. I have blogged on it before HERE and HERE. It is a very sad loss of opportunity for District of Columbia school students whose only option now may be a seriously deficient public school system. Students currently in the Opportunity Scholarship Program can stay but no new students can be admitted.

In this issue, if the focus is on Children and what is best for them, then the Opportunity Scholarship Program should continue. If the focus shifts to politicians and teachers unions and what they want, the children suffer. And before anyone says that the Archdiocese is just out for money, the fact is we  have lost money on the program since the scholarships do not cover the total cost of educating these children in our schools.

But we will continue to fight for what is best for children and we are willing to make scarifices for providing what is best for them. Our own resources are linited and the Opportunity Scholarships helped us provide a quality education to many more than our own scholarship funds could assist. We will continue to work with others to build a pluralistic coalition that will act to have the Opportunity Scholarship Program reinstated. The children deserve options.

The following video was shot by Susan Gibbs at the Rally for School Choice yesterday. The video features Ryan Washington, an 8th Grader at St. Augustine School here in the District.

Congressional Action Introduced to Save Opportunity Scholarships

A second Statement has come from the Archdiocese of Washington today welcoming legisaltion introduced in Congress today to save the Opportunity Scholarship Program (School Vouchers). Here is the statement followed by some comments in red from very truly yours.

Archdiocese Welcomes Introduction of Congressional Legislation to Continue Opportunity Scholarship Program

The Archdiocese of Washington welcomes legislation introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Preserving D.C. Student Scholarships Act of 2009. This bill would continue the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program and permit low-income students in the District of Columbia to continue to receive a quality education at the school of their choice. Without swift action by Congress, this federally-funded program will end in 2010, putting the children’s education at risk.

This program is a lifesaver for children in the city. Not only has a Congressionally-mandated study found the Opportunity Scholarship Program to be successful in increasing student achievement, but we have seen its positive impact first-hand with students transformed into enthusiastic young scholars,” said Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, Ph.D., superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Opportunity Scholarship students who graduated from Archbishop Carroll High School this year, for example, have been accepted at 30 colleges and universities, including St. John’s University, Syracuse University, Norfolk State and others. This follows the success of the two prior years, when 100 percent of the scholarship students graduated from this competitive high school and were accepted into college.

Of the more than 1,700 students who received Opportunity Scholarships this year, 879 attended Catholic schools in the District. The federally-funded scholarships provide low-income families with up to $7,500 towards tuition and some fees at participating non-public schools. The program was established five years ago as part of the three-sector initiative to strengthen education across the city that also has brought millions of new federal funds to the District’s public and charter schools.

The Archdiocese of Washington supports full and permanent funding of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program as part of comprehensive support for education in the District of Columbia. Visit www.dcopportunityscholarship.org for more information.

This issue isn’t that hard to understand. If the focus is on the children of Washington DC and what is best for them then Opportunity Scholarships  (School Vouchers)  should continue to be offered. If the focus is on politics and what union leaders and some bureaucrats want then it is the children who will suffer. The DC Public schools are broken and far from being fixed. Some reforms may have begun but things are still terrible. DC Children and their families need options. This is CLEARLY what is best for them. Why don’t we just keep it this simple: do what is best for DC children. Keep the opportunity scholarship program available for DC children and their families.

The following video indicates that the President has not yet taken a position on the matter. Since it was made he has taken a stand against continuing the program. He has proposed that the students currently in the system can continue until they graduate. But no new students will be allowed to enter.  Thus he and others want the program to die. We need to continue to work with the President and Congress to change their minds on this matter.

Opportunity Scholarships Provide Hope

What should we do when a public school system is failing it’s children? The first answer that comes to mind is that we should reform that school system. But what if that reform has been resisted for years by complex political and philosophical forces? What if, for decades a public school system that everyone admits is one of the poorest performing in the nation has not improved but has gotten worse? What if its buildings are in disrepair and more importantly its performance indicators remain steadfastly dismal? What to do with a school system that fails our children and fails to reform?

Well the answer is to provide successful alternatives for children and their families.  This has happened in the last number of years through a program called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program is federally funded and provides children that qualify a voucher of up to $7,500 that they can use to enroll in a private school that will serve them well. Some of the families have chosen Catholic Schools, some have chosen other private schools. But the key point is that those families blessed to receive such assistance now have an alternative to failing public schools. There are many wonderful success stories that have emerged from the Opportunity Scholarship Program and I hope to share some of them with you in future posts.

But for now, I ask your prayers and attentiveness to the fact that Congress has refused to reauthorize this very effective program and wants to force many families back into a failing system that cannot serve their children effectively. The White House recently floated a “compromise” that would allow children in the system currently to see their days out to graduation but the fact is that President Obama wants the program to end too.

We have to pray and work to change minds and hearts on this matter. Too many children will suffer needlessly if Congress bows to political pressure from teachers unions and other interest groups. I repeat, whatever your political leanings, it is the children who lose in this political debate if vouchers are ended. Poorer families need quality educational alternatives if the cycles of poverty are to be broken for many of them. It is simply wrong to end a successful program when quality educational alternatives in the public sector are currently lacking. Consider well who we are punishing in this debate. It’s not conservatives, it’s not the Church, it’s not private schools, it’s the children.

Political action from across the political spectrum is beginning to rally around this issue. Today hearings were held in congress that you can see here:  HEARINGS I will edit and provide highlights in the next few days. In that hearing there are motions to reverse the decision to cancel the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Last week a rally was held with thousands attending to voice their support for vouchers. Lend your voice. Get informed by visiting the website  Opportunity Scholarship Website

Here is are video highlights from last week’s rally: