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Senator Scott Presses Acting Education Secretary King on DC Vouchers

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Today at the Senate HELP Committee hearing on the nomination of Dr. John B. King Jr. for US Education Secretary, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), an ardent supporter of school choice, asked King about expanding DC’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (DC OSP), as DC students and families watched.

Here’s the exchange between King and Scott:

SCOTT:  One area that we may have to agree to disagree on is the DC OSP. I know there are parents and students in the audience who have a very passionate position, as I do, on the importance of the DC OSP.

Especially when you look at your commitment to equity and excellence, and the fact that we have a classic example here in Washington DC of a process and a program that has produced numbers and success in a way that’s inconsistent with other schools.

I believe the graduation rate of DC OSP students is around 90%. Other schools in DC are around 62%, some going as low as 38%. The cost per pupil for the DC OSP is somewhere around $9,000-12,000, and for other DC schools it’s over $18,000. So you get about a 50% better graduation rate, and 88% of those students go on to a two-year or four-year college experience.

It seems to me that the administration, and you as Secretary, should take a second look at that program, and look for ways to integrate it and to use to carry over money of $35 million dollars to fund more scholarships. And quite frankly this is not just my perspective but a bipartisan perspective. You look at the support of Senators like Ron Johnson (R-WI) as well as Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) who all have the same opinion of the DC OSP.

What can we do to move the administration, and you as perhaps the new Secretary, in the direction of using that $35 million dollars to fund more scholarships?

What we have an opportunity to do is to take the $35 million dollars to use for more scholarships so that we see more kids — 97% of these kids are either African American or Latinos — we see more kids succeeding at high levels, especially when you think about the fact that 60% of these kids are receiving SNAP benefits and yet they are out-performing their peers throughout the DC area, and, perhaps, throughout the country.

KING:  As we talked about, and I very much respect your position, our view is that the number of slots in the DC voucher program should be based on annual appropriations to the extent that there are open slots within the annual appropriation, those would be filled.

We think the carryover funds should be maintained to ensure that the currently enrolled students, if new appropriations are not made, have the opportunity to complete their education in the schools where they’re now enrolled.

Again I respect that we have a difference of opinion on that. I think we share an urgency around equity and excellence. I do not personally believe that vouchers are a scaleable solution to the equity and excellence challenge, and prefer the route of public school choice, but certainly respect your position on it.

SCOTT:  I’ll just close with this Mr. Chariman. I certainly think that your success on charters schools is undeniable and thank goodness that you’ve taken that track. I think when you look at the DC OSP and the 10 year period of time we’ve seen 6,000 students come across and 95 or 93% of those kids graduate, that it would be a shame for us not to take advantage of a system or program that is working so well that we have so many kids that would’ve been denied access to higher education now being involved in higher education, succeeding in higher education. That changes their entire family system. For us not to take a second look at this would be a shame.

We are proud & thankful recognized DC OSP parents and students in the audience and pressed King about the importance of this school choice program.

This exchange shows why we need to continue to put the pressure on lawmakers to ensure this program continues and expands to help even more low-income students in DC succeed.

Click here to ask Congress to act now and support the DC OSP!


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