Barack Obama & the DC Voucher Program

Patrick Gibbons

President Barack Obama promised voters he would have a fact-based presidency. Policy would be decided based on what worked rather than right-wing vs. left-wing dogma. But two months into his presidency the U.S. Department of Education quietly buried a report that found the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (read vouchers) worked. Not only did it work, but the first students in the program now average a 19-month learning advantage in their reading skills over their public school peers. Additionally, the program is incredibly popular and in high demand with parents, with four parents applying for a scholarship for every one available.

The D.C. Program serves just 1,700 low-income D.C. kids, mostly minorities, and costs just $18 million. It awards scholarships as high as $7,500, although the average school scholarship is around $6,600. What is the annual per-pupil cost for D.C.’s abysmal public school system (the worst in the nation) to operate? Some $26,000.

Despite all the benefits of the D.C. scholarship program, Democrat majorities in Congress have all but killed the program. Many members seemed more concerned with how much funding public schools receive than with how successfully they boost student achievement – never mind that the D.C. program removes $0 from the D.C. public schools.

These politicians forget the original mission of public education altogether – namely, to assist children to receive a good education. The antipathy toward vouchers – which do just that, and very cost-effectively – is more than disturbing. It suggests a fundamental callousness toward the welfare of real children.

It is time to stop thinking about public education in such antiquated terms. Vouchers can be a valuable benefit for public education, even if the student attends a private school. If the goal is to educate children, does it really matter where or how they receive that education?

Watch the Reason TV video on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program above to learn more.