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House Votes to Reauthorize D.C. School Voucher Program

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 21, 2015 2 min read
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The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to reauthorize the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act (SOAR), which creates vouchers for a certain number of K-12 students in the District of Columbia. But what will happen after the House’s passage of H.R. 10 is unclear.

The Opportunity Scholarship program is a political favorite of House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and he’s intent on making sure his name stays with the program even after he leaves Congress. As my colleague Alyson Klein noted last month, H.R. 10 was approved by the House even though the program isn’t technically up for renewal this year. (Remember, at one time Boehner was chairman of the House education committee, and fought unsuccessfully for the inclusion of a voucher program during negotiations over what became the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.)

Six other lawmakers co-sponsored H.R. 10, including Rep. John Kline, the Minnesota Republican who now leads the House education committee, and one Democrat, Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski.

“It will provide a model for success that could be adopted by states across the country,” Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., a member of the House education committee, said in support of the bill before the vote.

However, the Senate still needs to sign off on H.R. 10, and that’s no sure thing. After all, vouchers easily create political controversy. And Boehner, along with Kline, have also fought with the Obama administration over the program—they have argued that the administration has thrown unnecessary obstacles in the program’s way.

Arguing against H.R. 10, Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings noted that D.C. Council members don’t want the program reauthorized, called for more research on the program, and also said that the program is already authorized through September 2016 irrespective of the legislation.

“I can’t help but feel bewildered as to why we are rushing to reauthorize D.C. school vouchers, yet we continue to ignore our nation’s crumbling infrastructure” and other problems, Hastings said.

In 2012, Congressional Republicans and Obama did agree to a deal to raise the cap on the number of students who could use the vouchers, from 1,615 to 1,700, and simultaneously conduct an evaluation of the program.

Previous research of the program has revealed mixed results.

A 2008 study showed that it didn’t have a big impact on standardized test scores at the time, for example, and also isn’t always used by the District’s neediest students. It’s also shown to have integrated area private schools at a higher rate than D.C. public schools, and school choice supporters point to the 90 percent graduation rate for students in the program.