Sen. Lieberman & Rep. Boehner Urge President Obama to Save D.C. School Choice Program
House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) sent President Obama a letter today strongly urging him to act to save the Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington, D.C.:
"This program has helped thousands of young people escape from some of the worst schools in the nation," Boehner said. "It is a model of reform that should be expanded, not ended."
Senator Lieberman said, "I appeal to President Obama to save this effective program that provides a valued opportunity to disadvantaged students in the District of Columbia. We must not allow the twilight to fall on this vital program that serves those in the dawn of life."
Boehner helped create the Opportunity Scholarship Program when he was chairman of the House Education & the Workforce Committee and Senator Lieberman is the current chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.
Text of the letter:
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to you to urge you to save the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (D.C. OSP).
The 111th Congress considered language before the end of the first legislative session that restricted D.C. OSP funding only to students already participating in the scholarship program, calling into question the future of the program. The D.C. OSP has been an effective educational alternative for more than 3,000 low-income students in the District of Columbia. Terminating the program will be devastating for many low-income families who are zoned for underachieving and often unsafe schools, most of whom will not be selected to attend one of the area's charter schools. D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government that terminating the program will be a substantial burden for the D.C. public schools as they will need to absorb these opportunity scholarship recipients.
We ask for your leadership to prevent the termination of the program by including support for a reauthorization of the program, including allowing new students into the program as spaces become available, in your fiscal year 2010 budget.
In an education speech before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on March 10, 2009, you said you would direct Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to "use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It's not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works." Mr. President, this program works. According to Patrick Wolf, the principal investigator for the study conducted under the auspices of the Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, this program has met a tough standard for efficacy. Dr. Wolf found that "the D.C. voucher program has proven to be the most effective education policy evaluated by the federal government's official education research arm so far." Using your stated criteria, this program should be reauthorized and additional students should be allowed to participate.
We agree that opportunity scholarships alone are not the sole solution to the problems that have long beset the troubled public school system in the District of Columbia. We fully support the efforts of Chancellor Rhee to turn around the public schools, and Congress has appropriated extra funding to the District to complement her efforts. However, as she has indicated, it will take many more years to turn around underachieving public schools in the District. In the meantime, young lives are at stake and young lives are being lost. We should not sacrifice these students to politics as we work to improve the public school system. At $7,500 per student, this program provides a quality education at less than half the cost of the per pupil expenditure for students in the D.C. public school system. And it is getting better results.
The D.C. OSP has the overwhelming support of D.C. residents, parents, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chancellor Rhee, former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and a majority of the D.C. City Council. As efforts are made to turn-around D.C.'s underachieving public schools we must reauthorize the D.C. OSP to ensure that low-income D.C. students have access to quality education today, and we need to ensure that the same number of students is able to participate as in recent years. We hope you will agree that there is no justifiable reason to end this program and that you will work with us to guarantee the future of the D.C. OSP program.
Joseph I. Lieberman
Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
John A. Boehner
House Republican Leader