House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will introduce legislation today to renew the landmark bipartisan D.C. school choice program that had been abandoned by the Obama Administration and previous Democratic majority. Boehner said this week that “If the president is sincere about working together on education reform, we should start by saving this successful, bipartisan program that has helped so many underprivileged children get a quality education.”
The Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act would reauthorize the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which began in 2004 and provides low-income students in Washington, D.C. with the opportunity to receive a scholarship to attend a private school of their parents’ choice. In summary, the D.C. school choice bill:
- Improves the current D.C. school choice program for students, families, and taxpayers: The bipartisan bill not only renews this landmark program, it improves it by increasing scholarship awards for students (up to $12,000 per year for high school students and $8,000 per year for elementary school students), capping administrative expenses at three percent to make sure dollars are going to the students who need them, and adopting several Democratic reforms to ensure schools are accredited and have the necessary financial resources.
- Tracks students’ academic achievement: The school choice program would continue to undergo rigorous evaluation comparing the academic achievement, retention and dropout rates, and other key indicators between D.C. public schools and those schools participating in the D.C. opportunity scholarships program.
- Assesses parents’ satisfaction and involvement with the education of their children: The program would continue to evaluate whether it is expanding choices for parents and increasing parental involvement with their children’s education. It would also continue to work to identify the reasons parents choose to participate in the program in the first place.
- Ensures enrolled students are not punished for their parents’ success: In the past, some students lost their opportunity scholarships when their parents’ economic situation modestly improved. In an effort to make sure there is no disincentive to accept job promotions or get married, the household income limit would be increased to 300 percent of the federal poverty for students already participating in the school choice program.
But that’s not all. The legislation would also authorize funding for school improvement for D.C. public schools and D.C. public charter schools, and ensure that funding is equally divided between OSP schools, D.C. public schools, and D.C. public charter schools.
The D.C. school choice program is a model version of education reform, using tax dollars to give students and parents more choices and more flexibility. As two Heritage Foundation analysts wrote for National Review:
“Dollars and decision-making belong in the hands of those closest to students who know them and their needs best – not with distant, unelected bureaucrats in Washington. Conservatives want to set a course to restore federalism, stop the spending spree and advance parental choice in education.”
Speaker Boehner invited several students, parents, and teachers involved in the D.C. school choice program to attend last night’s State of the Union address. You can learn more about them here and can find a picture of Boehner and the guests below: