Low-income D.C. Families Demand Education Reform (brief)



Photo by Beverly Kwakye

By: Beverly Kwakye Nov. 4, 2015

At a Senate committee hearing on reauthorizing the District of Columbia private voucher program, hosted by a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, a series of panelists consisting mostly of senators, demanded that D.C. students who come from low-income families should have equal opportunities to obtain a quality education outside of public schools.

“We still struggle to make sure every kid has a chance to learn,” Ranking Member Tom Carpenter D-Del said.

Senator Diane Feinstein D-CA and a panel of officials were the first to testify before a Senate committee today, that the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) which enables low-income children in D.C. to receive scholarships and tuition assistance for private schools, requires much-needed reform.

According to Feinstein, reform should call for low-income families to allow their kids to have a choice of receiving an education from higher institutions like private schools.

The program’s current restrictions limit the number of students eligible for the scholarship, several panelists also testified.

“It is and should remain an issue about children,” Senator Tim Scott R-SC said about the need to reform the program.

During his testimony, Scott referenced his own financial struggles that resulted from being raised in a single-parent household, similar to what many of the children who should be eligible for the scholarship program face.

Programs like OSP allow kids who grow up in the ‘wrong zip code’ to still experience the best of life, Scott said.

According to Scott, students who wished to receive a higher education benefited from the program. Last year 90 percent of OSP students went on to earn two or four-year degrees, Scott said.

Opposition Rises

Despite concrete arguments in favor of reforming OSP, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton D-DC, opposed the program, claiming “it has failed to improve academic achievement.”

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the program ‘lacks quality controls.’ The reauthorization bill that recently passed the House, tries to improve the program, with the requirement that state students must attend accredited schools, according to Norton. Norton contended that even though accreditation serves as a method of validity, it is not enough to “ensure quality.”

“Congress should not fund low-quality schools that would not exist but for this program’s virtually unconditional federal funds,” Norton said in opposition. Norton wants to eliminate these voucher mils.

Among Norton’s concerns, was also the fear that the bill may take away from previous authorizations that allow the scholarship program’s evaluations to be ‘conducted using the strongest possible research design.’ According to Norton, the program has since been evaluated using a randomized control trial (RCT). Through this trial, the individuals studied are randomly divided into different methods that are under study.

Norton noted that the revised bill takes away from precise evaluations by disallowing an RCT. 

                                                Congresswoman sides with program reform

Contrary to her prior mindset leaning towards the opposition, Norton wants to work with the program ensuring that students from low-income households receive the quality education they demand.

“I appreciate this committee’s interest in improving access to a high-quality education,” Norton said in a concluding statement.

                        Panel Two Highlights Benefits

 Chairman Kevin Chavous defended the benefits of the program claiming, it “had strong support in the District.” According to Chavous, “both public and charter schools benefitted from the program.” Chavous voiced how the program “has brought hundreds of millions of new dollars to the District of Columbia, for traditional public schools and for D.C. charter schools,” despite what officials who oppose the program alleged.

Chavous professed that promoting equal education benefits more than just the students “but benefits all Americans.”

Chavous suggested that present socio-economic problems connect to the lack of education individuals receive. By reforming the OSP, the government not only provides opportunities for youth at risk, but the nation benefits from “reduced crime, a far more productive workforce and a more prosperous economy,” Chavous detailed while explaining the importance of an educated population.

Before conclusions rose as to how reform to the program would begin, The Field School student Linda Cruz Catalan, pleaded that she too has benefitted from the program. Cruz openly gestured that if it weren’t for these programs, she would not have been able to explore certain subjects and extracurricular activities at The Field School.


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