Mike Needham

This week, Congress has the opportunity to reverse its tragic 2009 decision to end the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. Unlike President Obama’s big government agenda, this program provides real hope for disadvantaged children and gives them an opportunity to win the future.

School choice offers a tremendous benefit to students and their families. It is not surprising that 74% of DC residents support the program. And the program’s results that have been seen in the classroom.

91% of students using vouchers in the program have graduated compared to only 70% of the non-voucher using population. Parents were ten percentage points more likely to give their child’s school and A or a B rating if they were in the voucher program than if they were not. These same parents were more likely to describe their child’s school as safe and orderly.

President Obama has famously observed that his administration would make decisions “based on facts, not ideology.” We should take him at his word. The facts on the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program are clear: it is an important program that has brought hope to thousands of students and changed the trajectory of their education.

Fortunately, the DC school choice program has a powerful ally in House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). While the Democratic Congress ended the program in 2009, Boehner has continued to fight for the children who, now and in the future, can use this program as a way into a better education.

Speaker Boehner framed it perfectly in January when he said, “If the president is sincere about working together on education reform, we should start by saving this successful, bipartisan program that has helped so many underprivileged children get a quality education.”

Powerful politicians, however, are not the only people weighing in on this fight. This is not surprising as they – more often than not – can find a way to send their children to the school of their choice. The most powerful voices have been those directly affected by the program.

Vivian Butler was one such mother who recently took to the pages of The Washington Post to explain how the program impacted the life of her daughter, Jerlisa.

“[S]lowly but surely Jerlisa’s grades and education advanced,” Butler wrote. “As ninth grade ended, I just couldn’t believe how much she had learned and grown. I said to myself: ‘By George, I think she’s got it now!’ Jerlisa isn’t the only one who has benefited from this experience. ... And seeing Jerlisa’s growth over the past six years has inspired me to take some hard steps in my own life. I’m now applying to programs to become a home health-care nurse. Meanwhile, Jerlisa is deciding where to apply for college.”

Before voting this week, every member of the House of Representatives should watch the documentary Waiting for Superman. It vividly portrays how our education system is structurally deficient and in need of massive reform. School choice is not the only solution, but it is a part of it. Because the Constitution gives Congress exclusive legislative power over Washington, DC, it has become an important and appropriate laboratory for school choice.

Last week, Heritage Action for America announced the launch of a legislative scorecard in order to highlight important legislative activity and decisions made by lawmakers. I am proud that we chose the SOAR Act, which would give new life to the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, as our first key vote. Fixing our broken school system is not just a domestic policy issue or a fiscal policy issue, it is a moral obligation.

We applaud Speaker Boehner and all DCOSP’s many champions for breathing new life into this important program. Legislation to restore this program is almost certain to pass the House of Representatives.

The Senate could prove challenging, though. A key vote could be Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA). In the past, she has favored the program because it was favored by the local DC government. Now, however, the DC government is split, with Mayor Vincent Gray opposing the program and DC Council Chair Kwame Brown supporting the program.

For politicians who are serious about America’s future, this is a no brainer.


Mike Needham

Mike Needham is the Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Action for America, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to advancing legislation that promotes freedom, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.


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