Teacher Union’s Misleading Attack on Popular D.C. Scholarship Program

For over a decade, thousands of low-income African American and Latino students have been able to attend a private high school of their choice in our nation’s capital thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP). Many of the scholarship’s recipients have gone on to become the first in their families to graduate from college.

Unfortunately, the largest teachers’ union in the United States opposes the program.

In a letter to all members of Congress, Marc Egan, director of government relations for the National Education Association (NEA), writes: “The D.C. private school voucher program is diverting funds from public to private schools at a time when sequester-level budget cuts are hurting students.”

But a careful reading reveals that that the NEA, which represents more than 3 million teachers, is only reporting half the story.

D.C. public schools have actually been receiving millions from the federal government through the scholarship program for years.

In fact, Washington, D.C. public schools have actually been receiving millions from the federal government through the scholarship program for years. Since 2004, records indicate that Washington, D.C. public schools have received nearly $250 million.

This staggering sum contradicts NEA’s claims that DCOSP is “diverting funds from public to private schools.” In reality, the federal dollars earmarked for the D.C. public schools as part of DCOSP funding were included precisely to preempt teachers’ union attacks.

With huge sums of federal money flowing into the D.C. public schools, per-pupil spending in the District this year is the highest in the nation at $29,427, according to Matthew Ladner, an education policy expert with the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

per-pupil spending in the District this year is the highest in the nation at $29,427

“This per pupil figure could comfortably pay the average tuition and fees costs for three students to attend state universities at the average national cost for in-state students,” Ladner wrote recently in a white paper.

Still, the NEA and other school choice opponents continue to claim that this highly targeted scholarship program, which serves just 1,400 students a year, is “deprive[ing] students of important rights and protections.” The same letter Congress members that their support for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program may be used against them in the union’s legislative score card.

Also missing in the NEA’s attacks against the DCOSP is that research has found that recipients have higher graduation rates compared to their peers in regular district schools. Student and parent satisfaction rates are also very high, which undercuts the union’s claim that it’s interested in doing what is best for students and families.

For parents like Gary Jones, a lifelong Washington, D.C. resident and a father of five, the DCOSP is “a blessing.”

“I look forward to my daughter doing well and going on to a four year college,” he said.

“It’s not about destroying public schools,” Jones said. “It’s about giving us choice.”

Jones added that he is the son of a D.C. public school teacher and knows too well about the severity of budget cuts. But he supports the DCOSP because it provides “greater options” while still supporting the district’s public schools.

“It’s not about destroying public schools,” Jones said. “It’s about giving us choice.”

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform approved the Scholarship for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, which would extend the life of the DCOSP for at least another five years. A full House vote on the legislation is expected, but no date has been announced.

In addition to waiting from House Republican leadership on a vote, the legislation would need support in the U.S. Senate. With Republicans maintaining a slim majority, the measure is expected to pass once taken up, although not without fierce opposition from Democrats who expended precious political capital to oppose the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a prominent school choice supporter.

Finally, school choice supporters will also look closely at President Trump’s budget to see if funding is included for the DCOSP. During the campaign, the president said that he would be “the biggest cheerleader for school choice.”

Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega.

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