School Choice & Charters

Spotlight Focuses on D.C. Vouchers

By Erik W. Robelen — May 18, 2009 1 min read

For such a small program, the private-school-voucher initiative for the District of Columbia has been getting an awful lot of attention lately.

One of its longtime champions, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., convened a May 13 hearing during which he made the case for extending the life of the federally funded program, which President Barack Obama recently proposed to phase out.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, established as a five-year pilot in 2004, now serves some 1,600 low-income students in Washington. The program has become a focal point of debate nationally between voucher supporters and opponents.

In its fiscal 2010 budget proposal, the White House is, essentially, seeking to grandfather in those students who already attend private schools courtesy of the federally funded vouchers—but not allow any new students to participate.

Caught in the debate “are real people, real parents who want the best for their children, real students with all of the ability that God gave them,” Mr. Lieberman said at last week’s hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which he chairs.

Among the panelists at the hearing were the parent of a child in the program, a student currently receiving a voucher, and another who previously did.

“Receiving a scholarship was a blessing for my family and put me on the path to success,” said Tiffany Dunston, who recently graduated from Archbishop Carroll High School, in Washington, and just completed her freshman year at Syracuse University.

Sen. Lieberman lamented that some of those invited to testify who were likely to bring a more skeptical view of the voucher program had not agreed to come. Among them: representatives from the two national teachers’ unions.

A spokesman for the NEA said the union’s president was not available to attend the hearing. A spokeswoman for the AFT said the same, though the AFT did submit written testimony.

A version of this article appeared in the May 20, 2009 edition of Education Week

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