House Reauthorizes Opportunity Scholarship Program for the District of Columbia
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act (SOAR), which reauthorizes the District of Columbia’s voucher program (DCOSP), by 240 votes to 191. In DCOSP’s 12-year history, it has served more than 6,100 low-income students in the District by providing them with access to a quality education, and today’s passage is a victory for them and the future families that will follow them through the program.
Years of scrutiny have consistently shown the program produces excellent results. Ninety-three percent of the student recipients graduate within four years, compared with a dismal 58 percent in the District’s public school system. Perhaps even more importantly, 98 percent of recent scholarship students have gone on to two- or four-year colleges, changing the trajectory of their own lives, along with their families’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, parents of students in the program are happier with the schools their children attend and are more likely to rate their school an A or B on parental satisfaction surveys than parents in the public school system.
Students participating in DCOSP have attained these measures of success despite the disadvantages they face; the average family income among recipients is less than $22,000. Furthermore, 97 percent of the recipients are either African-American or Hispanic.
And DCOSP has achieved these results at about half the cost of the per-pupil expenditure in District public schools, saving the taxpayer a pretty penny. Research on the effects of the program estimates the additional graduates the program produces have yielded a total financial benefit of $183 million to the economy, which means taxpayers get a 162 percent return on their wise investment in the futures of DCOSP students.
Unfortunately, despite the excellent results DCOSP achieves, it is simply not large enough to meet demand among parents in the District. More than 16,000 students have applied over the program’s lifetime, which means that almost 10,000 kids have been heartbreakingly excluded by the lottery. By reauthorizing the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program for another five years, the House has taken a small step towards supporting school choice for all families, but they need to do more. No child’s future should be determined by his or her zip code, or by the numbers of a lottery.