School Choice in the District of Columbia

1 min read

October 17, 2015 / By: Rachna Choudhry

The highly debated school voucher program in Washington, DC will get a vote in the House this week.

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which provides scholarships to attend private schools—commonly called “vouchers”—for grades K-12 for low-income children in the District of Columbia, is up for reauthorization. It was first passed in 2004 and expanded in 2011 for five additional years. For school year 2014-15, individual scholarship awards are up to $12,572 for high school and up to $8,381 for elementary and middle school. 1,442 students used scholarships to attend private schools this year school. (Source)

The bill “reauthorizes the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides low-income students, many of whom attend persistently underperforming public schools, with the opportunity to receive a scholarship to attend a private school of their parent’s choice,” according to the bill sponsor, outgoing Speaker John Boehner. “HR 10 improves and reauthorizes the program through 2021.”  (Bill text)

There is only one program in America where the federal government allows parents to choose the best schools for their kids, it is right here in Washington, DC, and it is working… This program gets the kind of results parents dream of for their kids.  It is a model for how we can break the status quo that deprives too many students of a great education.  This program was established with bipartisan support, and I am proud that we have bipartisan support for its renewal.  – John Boehner

From our Hill Sources: Opponents of the program say that the program diverts $20 million per year from public to private schools. Additionally, a recent US Department of Education report on the DC program found that the majority of participating private schools have tuition costs that exceed the scholarship amount. 
Eight DC Council members sent a letter to the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), stating their concerns about diverting money away from public schools:

We have serious concerns about using government funds to send our students to private schools that do not have to adhere to the same standards and accountability as do public and public charter schools. For example, private religious schools, which 80 percent of students with vouchers attend, operate outside the non-discrimination provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Act.Morever, the voucher proposal is inequitable: if fully funded, the authorization would provide many more dollars per student for vouchers than is allocated per student in public schools and public charter schools. – Letter from eight DC Council Members

Tell Congress what you think:

H.R. 10: To reauthorize the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act —Bipartisan— 
Sponsor: Rep. John Boehner [R, OH-8]     


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