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Mr. FRELINGHUYSEN. Mr Chair, I rise in support of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program.
We, as Members of Congress, have one notion that binds us all together--every one of us understands that the key to the future of our great nation is the quality of the education we provide our children.
We all know the story of many failing District of Columbia public schools: Low graduation rates. High drop out rates. Low math and reading scores, reflected in a city-wide adult literacy rate of 37%! And, we can all agree that the children in the District deserve a first class education!
A few years back, I had the honor to Chair the District of Columbia Appropriations Subcommittee. In that capacity, I worked to create a program to give a `hand-up' to children in DC--the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program.
We built a `three-sector' approach, endorsed by former Mayor Anthony Williams and then councilman and current Mayor Adrian Fenty, and others: public schools, charter schools, and the latter, and the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides families with funds to send their children to private or parochial schools.
Since 2005, some 3,000 students have been provided with Opportunity Scholarships (over 7,000 applied). Today, there is a long waiting list, but over 1,700 D.C. scholarship students are attending 49 non-public schools. The average annual income for these families is around $23,000.
In April, the U.S. Department of Education released its own report--finding that students in the scholarship program are performing at higher academic levels than their peers who are not in the program, and are better off by virtually every important measure in their chosen schools.
So this is a good news story, right?
Well, not any more.
During the markup of this bill in Committee, I offered an amendment to make all DC children eligible for the Opportunity Scholarship Program.
And an amendment to allow the younger brothers and sisters of Opportunity Scholars to be allowed to participate alongside their older siblings. Both were defeated.
And likewise, I tried on behalf of Minority Leader Boehner and others before the Rules Committee, unsuccessfully, to make all children eligible.
But the Rules Committee said ``no'' to the Boehner amendment and in doing so, slammed the `door of opportunity,' inexcusably, on thousands of low-income Washington families.
Anticipating that there may well be a wellspring of indignation that Congress is again interfering with DC governance, may I ask where the District would be today if the Federal Government had not assumed most of the costs of the city's judicial system, and numerous city employee pension obligations--which we still pay.
And, I never heard protests about intervention when I inserted funding in the D.C. Appropriations bill to rebuild many dilapidated and dangerous DC school playgrounds or money to protect the Anacostia riverfront.
So why not continue to support a program that really is important: one that helps children!! by providing $14 million to give these children a better school and their parents a chance to fulfill their dreams?
And may I add, the dollars that now rescue some children in failing District public schools do not come at the expense of the public system--the program offers parents a choice without hurting public schools.
We need to heed the call of many city parents who want school choices for their children--a future as bright as ones in many of our states.
While the theoretical debate on such scholarships may have some value in the political sphere, District children should not be the pawns in some ideological battle. Rather, we need to protect their future and keep the scholarship program alive and expand it.
Finally, Mr Chair, as the Washington Post recently wrote, and I quote: ``Political ideology and partisan gamesmanship should not be allowed to blow apart the educational hopes of hundreds of DC children.'' I could not agree more!
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