Kathryn Lopez

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program saves lives. The fate of the nonprofit outfit, which takes poor children out of failing schools and gives them scholarships to private institutions, is currently up in the air -- in the hands of Congress and, ultimately, the president.

Supporters of the program cite its strong record of academic improvement, but its value goes beyond grades. It quite literally saves lives. Children enrolled in the DCOSP, now in its fifth year, are physically safer than they were in District public schools, some of the most violent in the nation.

President Barack Obama was recently shamed into agreeing that the 1,700 students from low-income families who are currently enrolled in private schools courtesy of DCOSP should be allowed to graduate with the program's support. (Two of the students enrolled attend school with Malia and Sasha Obama at the elite Sidwell Friends School.)

D.C. Opportunity (to coin an appropriate nickname) is an $18 million federally funded program that has garnered support from a diverse crew of Beltway insiders: George W. Bush, for one, along with current and former D.C. mayors Adrian Fenty, Anthony Williams and Marion Barry.

School choice, a longtime conservative-policy staple, has bipartisan support -- even the liberal Washington Post editorial page has blasted a D.C. Opportunity opponent, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, for disingenuousness in her attacks on the program.

In making his case against extending DCOSP, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin claimed earlier this year, "Many benefiting from this program want no questions asked about its efficacy. I think the taxpayers deserve better." I haven't surveyed everyone benefiting from this program, but I do know that we have answers to questions about how well it works.

In its first 19 months of operation, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program is moving children in the right direction. Unlike other programs, in which students backslide when they switch schools, some children enrolled in D.C. Opportunity have improved, according to the Department of Education's own evaluation, which cites that "achievement trends are moving in the right direction." And the right direction is happening at a fraction of the cost per pupil than in D.C. public schools. The Obama administration buried the most recent evaluation in a Friday-afternoon release during the appropriations debate over the fate of the program earlier this spring.


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.