Republican Speaker John Boehner’s revival of the popular school voucher program in D.C. he championed as House Minority Leader is good news for advocates celebrating the first annual National School Choice Week.
Boehner, who invited Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl and D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program recipients to be his guests at Tuesday’s State of the Union address, told reporters on Wednesday that vouchers would make the nation more educationally competitive. About 60 percent of OPS recipients attend Catholic schools in D.C.
Mayor Vincent Gray opposes the vouchers, which were phased out by Congress two years ago, despite the fact that they allow low-income District children to attend private schools at a fraction of what it costs the city to educate them in the public schools.
"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. If we're serious about bipartisan education reform, then this bipartisan education bill should be the starting point," Boehner told reporters.
In a presentation at the Heritage Foundation, Dr. Patrick Wolf, a University of Arkansas researcher who has studied school choice programs, including OPS, for the Department of Education, said that the data shows that public charter schools and voucher programs educate a higher percentage of disadvantaged and minority children on average than traditional public schools.
About 90 percent of OPS recipients are African American and 9 percent are Hispanic, Wolf says, with 17 percent diagnosed with disabilities. Their families’ average income of $17,356 is well below the federal poverty line. But they still managed to do slightly better than their peers in the District’s public schools.
Although voucher test score results nationwide are "mixed," Wolf noted OPS recipients gained a four-to-five month advantage in reading over their public school counterparts, although no such gains were made in math.
But Wolf says when it comes to urban education, any improvement is better than none.
"No other education innovation moves test scores further and faster," he told The Examiner, pointing out that OSP recipients also have a 21 percent higher high school graduation rate.