Two weeks ago, Speaker Boehner and Senator Joe Lieberman joined together in introducing bipartisan legislation to reauthorize and save the D.C. opportunity scholarship program, which has helped thousands of young kids escape from some of the most troubled schools in the nation. In yesterday’s Washington Post, a parent of one of those children – Vivian Butler – wrote about what the education program has meant for her daughter and her family:
“I worried constantly about my daughter Jerlisa when she attended our neighborhood elementary school. I knew that I wanted a better education for her, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. In 2005, I took a chance and applied to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Little did I know how much more than $7,500 I would be gaining.
“I grew up in the District and attended D.C. public schools. Jerlisa started off the same way. We enrolled her at Gibbs Elementary School for kindergarten, and as the years went by she started to fall behind. … It was clear to me she wasn’t getting the help that she needed. That’s when I received fliers about the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Although I didn’t know everything about the OSP, I knew I had to do something different, even if it meant getting out of my comfort zone. When you’re a single mother on a fixed income, sometimes simple things like filling out your name, address or income on a form can be a scary thing to do.
“I applied, and the OSP staff guided me through the process. When I received the voucher award letter, I was overwhelmed by the decisions I faced. For the first time, I had the option of choosing a school for Jerlisa. … It took all the determination we could muster to keep Jerlisa in the program. … I’m so glad I didn’t give up, because slowly but surely Jerlisa’s grades and education advanced. That made everything worthwhile. As ninth grade ended, I just couldn’t believe how much she had learned and grown. I said to myself: ‘By George, I think she’s got it now!’
“[S]eeing Jerlisa’s growth over the past six years has inspired me to take some hard steps in my own life. I’m now applying to programs to become a home health-care nurse. Meanwhile, Jerlisa is deciding where to apply for college.
“These are things we never dreamed were possible before. I am extremely proud of my daughter, and she is proud of me. Jerlisa’s scholarship has been worth so much more than $7,500.”
As a sign of his commitment and support for the program, Speaker Boehner hosted parents, students, and teachers who have benefited from the OSP as his guests for the State of the Union. If President Obama is serious about bipartisan education reform, he should work with both parties to save the successful, bipartisan D.C. school choice initiative that his administration has declined to renew. The program has helped thousands of underprivileged children get a quality education. It should be a model of reform that should be expanded, not ended.