Boehner Introduces Bill to Restore D.C. Voucher Program Cut by Obama Administration

January 27, 2011 - 5:59 AM

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011 that he and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have introduced legislation to bring back the D.C. school voucher program, which the Obama administration eliminated in 2009. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on Wednesday announced they have introduced legislation to restore the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which the Obama administration eliminated in 2009.

The program, launched in 2004, originally gave about 1,700 low-income children $7,500 a year to attend some of the best schools in the District of Columbia, including Sidwell Friends School where Sasha and Malia Obama are students.

Because of protests by parents, the Obama administration agreed to fund the scholarships for students already enrolled in OSP until they graduate from high school. But 216 students who were approved for a scholarship for the 2009-10 school year had their awards revoked.

Boehner and Lieberman’s newly introduced SOAR Act (Scholarship for Opportunity and Results Act) would authorize scholarships of up to $8,000 a year for elementary school students and up to $12,000 for high school students.

“In his State of the Union message last night, President Obama spoke of the vital role education plays in making our nation competitive,” Boehner said at a news conference on Wednesday.  Boehner then called for a “more competitive” education system.

“There’s only one program in America where the federal government allows parents from lower-income families to choose the schools that are best for their children, and it’s right here in D.C.,” said Boehner, who helped create OSP when he was chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
 
“The D.C. program provides a model that I believe can work well in other communities around the nation – it should be expanded, not ended. If we’re serious about bipartisan education reform, then this bipartisan education bill should be the starting point.”

Three students who attend Catholic schools in the District through OSP awards were Boehner’s guests at the State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

The most recent congressionally mandated report on the D.C. voucher program -- conducted three years after the program’s inception -- showed improved reading scores for the children enrolled in OSP as well as strong support from parents.

Math scores did not show significant improvement, but Dan Lips, an education policy expert with The Heritage Foundation, said reading was the most important indicator of an academic program’s success.
 
“It’s a shame there hasn’t been a stronger effect in math, but from an education policy perspective, reading is really the focus of what we want to see first,” Lips said. “That’s the key that unlocks all the other doors to learning.”

The SOAR Act includes education funding to be divided equally between OSP, D.C. public schools and D.C. charter schools. (The bill directs the city’s mayor to report to Congress on how the funds authorized and appropriated under the SOAR Act for DC public schools and DC public charter school are used and how such funds are contributing to student achievement.)

The bill also addresses the fact that some OSP recipients lost their scholarships when their parents’ economic situation modestly improved. “To ensure 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 DC OSP,” the bill summary says.

“The president spoke eloquently last night about the uniqueness of America in many ways, one of which is that it remains the country where individuals are most able to shape their own destiny; to make the most of themselves,” Lieberman said. “And the way in which Americans from generation to generation have done that is through our education system.”

Lieberman noted that neither his parents nor Boehner’s parents had college educations and that good educations had helped both of them achieve the success they enjoy today.

Lieberman said the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program ensures that the “ladder” to the American dream is extend to low-income children who are stuck in schools that are “not doing the job that we would want them to do for our children,” Lieberman said.