School choice advocates are irate with President Obama after his proposed 2015 budget, released yesterday, refused to propose any additional funding for a District of Columbia voucher program that is extremely popular with the city’s poorest residents.
The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, created in 2003, was allowed to expire by Obama in 2009 and was then reborn in 2011 after the bipartisan passage of the SOAR Act. The program provides scholarships to cover tuition and fees at participating D.C. private schools.
Due to limited funding, demand for the scholarships far outstrips supply. Last year, over 1,700 students applied to received the scholarships, but limited funding means that only 285 were given out through a lottery system. Advocates of the program have urged the president to let it expand to meet some of this overwhelming demand, but the president’s budget proposal leaves them hanging, including only enough money to continue the administration of existing scholarships while cutting off the prospect of any new ones.
“Opportunity Scholarships are a lifeline for some of the neediest students in our nation’s capital,” Center for Education Reform president Kara Kerwin said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation.. “The demand for this program is clear from the numbers alone. Parents want, and deserve, this choice for their children.”
Overall, more than 6,000 students have received Opportunity Scholarships throughout the program’s lifespan. According to the federal government’s own research, the program has substantially increased graduation rates for participants, as those given scholarships graduated at an 82 percent rate compared to 70 percent for a control group of those who applied for the scholarships but did not receive them.
“It’s inexcusable that the proven benefits of this program for students and parents are still being ignored,” said Kerwin.
Notably, almost all the beneficiaries of the program come from strong Democratic constituencies. Over 97 percent of participants are either black or Hispanic, and most are in poverty or barely above the poverty line.
“It really is political,” Kerwin told TheDCNF. “It’s the tendency of the status quo to constantly try and put pressure on [Obama] to not support school choice.”
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