Congress Should Reauthorize D.C. Scholarship Program That DeVos Calls Example for Country
Updated on January 24th, in Washington, D.C.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stated on Wednesday that Congress should renew the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Her goal is to ensure security for families currently benefiting from the program and to expand it in order to meet the growing demand. DeVos made these remarks during a speech at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. She emphasized the importance of predictability and stability for the program’s long-term success, criticizing the fact that it has often been used as a political tool.
DeVos, who appeared in a wheelchair due to a bicycle accident on December 30th in which she broke her hip and pelvis, engaged in a 15-minute conversation with Kay Coles James, the President of the Heritage Foundation. During their chat, DeVos highlighted the unmet demand for scholarships as a measure of success for the program.
According to Serving Our Children, the non-profit organization in charge of administering the program, 24,351 students have applied since its inception, with 10,701 receiving scholarships. However, recent research shows that an increasing number of students who are accepted into the program end up not using the vouchers..
The program, which grants private school scholarships to approximately 1,600 children each year, is currently authorized until the end of the fiscal year on September 30th. The current legislation also allocates funding for traditional public schools and charter schools in D.C. DeVos explained that this three-sector approach has led to improvements in student outcomes throughout the city.
However, evidence regarding the effectiveness of the voucher program is mixed. While research suggests that students’ standardized test scores tend to decline, particularly in math, it also shows that participating students graduate from high school at higher rates and parents perceive the schools as safer. Recent research found no discernible effect, either positive or negative, on college enrollment.
Critics of the program argue that it lacks proper oversight and that federal intervention in local affairs is inappropriate. City officials have expressed their disapproval of its implementation.
DeVos, who previously advocated for and financially supported private school choice programs, highlighted that the initial support for the program was bipartisan, with backing from both Capitol Hill and local officials.
She emphasized the significance of the Washington scholarship program and its demonstration of the positive outcomes that can result from empowered parents making choices for their children. Although a relatively small program, it has been influential at the national level.
Throughout its 15-year existence, the program has fluctuated in popularity among members of Congress. At one point during the early years of the Obama administration, it was closed to new students. Several key supporters, including former House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Joe Lieberman, have since left Congress, prompting the need for new allies, according to Katherine Haley, senior director of K-12 education programs at the Philanthropy Roundtable.
Haley suggests that DeVos, President Trump, and participating families should advocate for the extension and increased funding of the program.