Last year’s budget compromise between Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner—the one that resurrected the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program—was quashed Monday in a single paragraph deep in the president’s proposed 2013 budget.
The president would provide no new funding for the OSP, proposing instead to use the money available in the program to provide vouchers to currently enrolled students through the 2013-14 school year—effectively capping the number of scholarships available at a time when demand is spiking. He then would redirect $60 million and divvy it among Washington’s charter schools as well as “the District’s efforts to transform its public education system.”
Obama’s proposal shamefully sends the voucher movement back to familiar territory during an election year.
Despite the president’s long-held opposition to a scholarship program that has provided private school tuition assistance to more than 1,600 of D.C.’s most disadvantaged students, Obama found common ground with Boehner in April in order to avert a government shutdown and to preserve education initiatives favored by Democrats. “Life has been breathed into the voucher movement,” the Brookings Institution’s Grover J. Whitehurst said at the time.
Obama’s proposal shamefully sends it back to familiar territory during an election year.
Not long after he took office, Obama and Congressional Democrats shut down the voucher program to new students and as recently as last year argued that the OSP did nothing to raise student achievement. This ignores the findings from the U.S. Education Department’s own independent evaluator of the program, who found that the program increased high school graduation rates among participants by 21 percentage points. But that’s beside the point for the president.
When he and Boehner reached their compromise, D.C. families who wanted to participate in the program could move on with the assurance that politics had been set aside. After Congress reauthorized the program, enrollment in the Opportunity Scholarship grew by 60 percent.
Now the political headwinds have returned in a $3.8 trillion spending plan that has no room for this $20 million initiative for the poorest D.C. students. That’s disgraceful for a president who has chosen to spend as much as $64,000 annually to match his children with the school that best meets his family’s needs.