School Choice & Charters

GAO Urges Better Oversight of Voucher Program in D.C.

By Christina A. Samuels — November 13, 2007 2 min read

A congressional watchdog agency has determined that the federally funded voucher program serving students in the District of Columbia needs to exercise better oversight of its money and devise a way to ensure parents are getting up-to-date information about the 60 schools that accept the vouchers.

But representatives from the 4-year-old Washington Scholarship Fund, which administers the tuition-aid program, said the Nov. 1 report from the Government Accountability Office contained several inaccuracies, and that several of the recommendations have been voluntarily addressed. The GAO report also failed to note the high satisfaction level among parents of children in the program, the program administrators say.

The program was enacted by Congress in 2004 to provide scholarships of up to $7,500 for children in the 58,000-student District of Columbia school system to attend higher-performing private schools. Students in low-performing schools and those from low-income families are given priority.

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Utah’s Vote Raises Bar on Choice

The GAO report notes that the budget for the program has grown quickly, from start-up funding of $150,000 in its first year to $12.9 million in fiscal 2006. Currently, 1,903 children are receiving the scholarships and attend 54 different schools.

“With such rapid expansion, [the Washington Scholarship Fund] had little time to design or implement the needed procedures and internal controls for managing such a major increase in its operations,” the report says.

Fund’s Response

The GAO also says that program administrators have faced challenges in recruiting students, ensuring the quality of private schools that receive the vouchers, and providing parents with accurate information about private school options.

“The information that [program administrators] provided to parents to help them choose schools for children was not always complete and correct,” the report says. Some schools participating in the program reported that some of the teachers did not have at least a bachelor’s degree.

The Washington Scholarship Fund disagreed sharply with some of the findings, which they reviewed when the report was in draft form.

“Ultimately … we must emphasize that the draft report cites absolutely no evidence that federal ... program funds have been spent for anything other than genuine educational purposes,” wrote Gregory M. Cork, the president and chief executive officer of the scholarship fund.

The fund said it also plans to work closely with the U.S. Department of Education and the local government to strengthen the voucher program.

A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2007 edition of Education Week as GAO Urges Better Oversight Of Voucher Program in D.C.

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