School Choice & Charters

Group Picked to Run Voucher Program for D.C. Students

By John Gehring — March 31, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A local nonprofit group will administer the federally financed voucher program approved for the nation’s capital by Congress in January, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced last week.

The Washington Scholarship Fund already provides more than 1,000 students from the District of Columbia with privately financed scholarships to attend private schools. It was selected after an application process directed by the U.S. Department of Education’s office of innovation and improvement, in partnership with the mayor’s office.

“We have selected a credible, capable, and competent administrator,” Mr. Paige said at a March 24 press conference here that was also attended by Peggy Cooper Cafritz, the president of the city’s board of education, and other political leaders.

Mr. Paige praised the Washington Scholarship Fund’s “stellar application” and proven track record in managing a scholarship program. The fund, founded a decade ago by a group of local business and community leaders, is the largest and oldest granter of privately underwritten scholarships for K-12 students in the District of Columbia.

“Today, with this announcement, I believe we are witnessing history,” Mr. Paige said. “This is a defining moment for American education, a milestone of achievement. For each of these students, this is educational emancipation. What happens here in D.C. will be observed across the world. We must make this a model.”

How It Works

Although the voucher program is sure to attract attention from cheerleaders, critics, and researchers, the scope of the program is small.

Using a lottery system, about 2,000 Washington students from low-income families will be awarded up to $7,500 a year in tuition, fees, and transportation costs to attend private schools, either secular or religious, of their choice. Some $12 million in scholarship funds will be available to be used beginning in the fall for students in grades K-12.

Students who attend public schools that have been identified as needing improvement or correction will have priority in receiving the scholarships.

The school choice program is a five-year pilot project that will be studied by an outside evaluator selected by the Education Department. As of last week, no evaluator had been selected.

Sally J. Sacher, the president and chief executive officer of the Washington Scholarship Fund, said her organization would begin a public-information campaign to notify families about the program. In addition to informational meetings, it plans to advertise, send mailings to families, and conduct a door- to-door campaign in high-priority neighborhoods, officials said.

The scholarship fund will work with other local nonprofit groups, including Capital Partners for Education, D.C. Parents for School Choice, and the Greater Washington Urban League.

“We are excited and honored to have this chance to be a part of opening more doors for D.C. schools, students, and families,” Ms. Sacher said.

Mayor Williams, a Democrat who had supported the voucher plan on Capitol Hill, acknowledged the political challenges faced in pushing for such a program in the city. The effort sparked intense debate among members of Congress and among local and national education leaders. (“Federal Plan for Vouchers Clears Senate,” Jan. 28, 2004.)

All of the members of the District of Columbia’s school board—except for Ms. Cafritz—objected to the plan. The National School Boards Association and the National Education Association also spoke out against the measure.

“This has been a long road, and it will continue to be tough, but we have accomplished a lot,” Mr. Williams said.

Ms. Cafritz explained why she was ultimately persuaded to back the measure.

“I did it because I hear all this talk about ‘children first,’ and I know that the truth of the matter is that educated children are first, and whatever we can do to advance one child more rapidly, we have to do,” she said.

When the voucher plan is up and running, Washington will join Milwaukee and Cleveland as cities in which students can receive publicly financed tuition vouchers to attend private schools.

Through either direct state vouchers or tax credits for donors, Florida offers private school tuition aid to students in the most underperforming public schools, some low- income families, and children with disabilities.

A voucher program adopted by the Colorado legislature has been put on hold as a legal battle continues. In Utah, meanwhile, the governor vetoed a voucher plan last week. (“Gov. Walker Turns Down Voucher Bill,” this issue.)


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Charter School Governance Shapes Those Schools’ Approach to Equity
New research finds that the entities governing charters influence the schools' commitment to equity.
5 min read
Young students file back into school at Somerset Academy Charter South Miami, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022, in South Miami, Fla.
Students head back to their classrooms at Somerset Academy charter school in Miami in December.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP
School Choice & Charters Q&A Voucher Programs Gain Strength With Help From the Courts, An Expert Says
A school choice expert explains how recent rulings could prevent future voucher programs from getting blocked by opponents.
8 min read
Group of white paper planes going in one direction on a light blue background with one individual red paper plane heading in a different direction
School Choice & Charters Charter School Enrollment Holds Steady After Big Early Pandemic Growth
The numbers show that most students who left their district schools in the first year of the pandemic did not return.
2 min read
Image of an empty classroom.
School Choice & Charters Federal Funding and Charter School Closures: What the Latest Government Data Show
The Government Accountability Office examined closure rates over 15 years and $2.5 billion of federal funding.
2 min read
Illustration of weighing funding against schools remaining open
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty