Last Gasp For DC Opportunity Scholarship

Yesterday, at The Heritage Foundation Bloggers Briefing, Heritage education researcher Lindsey Burke presented on a number of education funding increases- and one decrease- in President Obama’s FY2010 budget that were not backed by the evidence the president and Education Secretary Arne Duncan said they would use.

Burke cited several examples of this government waste and unnecessary size increase. First, she handed out a Backgrounder by Heritage’s David Mahlhausen, Ph.D., and Dan Lips explaining how Head Start not only doesn’t work, but is one of 69 federal preschool and child care programs that receive about $25 billion annually. Of course, that’s not enough for the federal government, which is trying to put another program into the system for eight billion dollars more. (Burke’s own Web Memo about the increased federal role in early education goes into more detail about H.R. 3221, which is the bill that added the new bureaucracy and eight billion dollars.)

The second example of government inefficiency comes from Lips, who put out a Heritage Web Memo explaining President Obama’s plans to cap student loan payments and provide loan forgiveness after 20 years in the private sector or 10 years in the public sector. Also explained were how federal student aid probably does not help college affordability and actually may hurt it. The most important point, though, that Lips makes is that two basic market-based reforms to colleges could very well save a lot of money(Lips does not state how much would be saved).The first is to institute credit-by-exam programs more frequently. The second is to increase online education programs at universities and colleges across the country, thereby encouraging more people to take part in higher education courses without the egregious cost of being in the classroom.

The third part of Bruke’s presentation was her analysis of how the DC Opportunity Scholarship (the DC School Voucher Program) is ending. According to Burke, the program, which puts 1,700 poor minority residents of Washington, DC into a voucher education program, is to receive only nine million dollars in President Obama’s budget, despite requiring $12 million annually to function. Furthermore, explained Burke, this is expected to be the final infusion of federal dollars into this very successful and popular education program, despite the president’s promise to at least let the current batch of students graduate before cutting off funding.

As Benjamin Hodge analyzed earlier this year, the voucher program has a plethora of supporters across the political spectrum. In my own following of the debate, I have seen Senators Lieberman (I-CT) and Collins (R-ME) introduce a bill last year to reinstate the vouchers, Heritage and CATO fighting tooth and nail to keep the program going, and The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal using their pages to support the program. George Will, the DC City Council and numerous RedState contributors have also supported the program, and it has a 70% popularity among parents whose children participate. Unfortunately, Congressional Democrats have decided to kill the bill rather than face down the teachers unions.

To me, the DC Voucher debate is the most important of the three education issues Burke raised. According to Burke, it is the only federally-funded voucher program in the country. While some may see it as only a small program (according to numbers Heritage ran, the $7,500 per student cost is half the cost to educate the average student in DC. Burke said the average cost in America is about $10,000 per year), it not only saves the taxpayers millions every year (about 1,700 students are currently in the program), but it starts the process to reforming our very broken education system. Burke, the Post, CATO and numerous other sources have cited data published by Obama’s own Department of Education showing the program has measurable results, particularly reading and math, and it keeps students out of high-risk schools where they are both unsafe and unsuccessful.

It is a travesty that this very successful program is being allowed to die. It helps many hundreds of poor students (particularly minorities) get a better, safer education. It helps these students be better prepared to move forward in careers, healthier lives, etc. It saves the taxpayers money. It sets an example of how a voucher program should work, an example to which states across the country should pay attention. Lastly- and let’s be honest here- it gives Republicans and conservatives the opportunity to show how our ideas are better than that of the Democrats and liberals for education reform, improving the lives of poor minorities, blunting the destructive teachers unions and bringing real competition and efficiency to how federal dollars are spent on education.

This is almost certainly the last gasp for the voucher program. It has the support of the Lieberman/Collins bill, but not that of the vast majority of Congress (which is why it is expected to be phased out). Given the study Heritage did on the high number of Members of Congress who have attended private school, or have their child attending private school, one has to wonder why Congress, especially with a massive majority of Democrats in power, is letting teachers unions have more input on their votes than poor minorities looking to improve their station in life. (Oh, and President Obama’s daughters also attend private school…) It is up to us, the voters, to protest and advocate on behalf of DC’s young people, and make certain our Representatives and Senators know to ignore the president on the DC Voucher Program, both for the moral reasons adn the fact that we will hold this against them come November.

For more information on why we should support the DC Opportunity Scholarship, go to VoicesofSchoolChoice.org, where the Heritage-produced video “Let Me Rise” can be found, as well as a link to the Washington Post editorial stating that a majority of the DC City Council supports the voucher program.

*Originally posted at www.race42012.com.