D.C. scholarship Dems tried to kill works, returns more than it costs

posted at 9:56 pm on February 11, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham

It is a beautiful thing, and all too rare, to find an education program that works for at-risk students, for those with low incomes, across all racial groups. That is what Washington, D.C. found in the Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which gives scholarships to thousands of mostly low-income and minority students, who have used them since 2005 to get out of failing public schools and thrive in private schools.

The scholarship program was the result of a hard-fought grassroots battle by District parents led by Virginia Walden-Ford, whose own son had been given a private scholarship she credited with his academic and professional success. She wanted that opportunity for other students. As was to be expected, teachers unions and nearly all Democrats in Congress aligned against her, but Ford is no stranger to fighting for a quality education against formidable foes. She and her twin sister were among the first black students to integrate Little Rock’s public schools on a larger scale after the Little Rock Nine. She’s the kind of woman the press would lionize, and rightly so, if she didn’t happen to be on the school-choice side of the issue.

But she is, and in 2005, with Republican control of the Senate and some help from a few Democrats, public school students in D.C. got a scholarship, at no cost to the D.C. public school system, which got matching funds to appease detractors.

Fast forward four years, and a Democratic Senate does the unions a solid in 2009:

The Opportunity Scholarship’s $14 million in yearly funding was nixed last week by Senator Dick Durbin, who inserted language in the $410 billion omnibus spending bill to sunset the program at the end of the next school year. On the Senate floor, he and ally Chuck Schumer attributed their action to a newfound interest in evaluating federal programs for effectiveness. Neither mentioned that Durbin counts the National Education Association among his top 10 lifetime contributors. Nor did they mention that Head Start, a federal pre-K education program, which has yet to present the evaluation required by its 1998 reauthorization, was nonetheless funded to the tune of $7 billion in the same bill.

“I had hoped that the successes of these kids would just speak for themselves,” Walden-Ford says, the moms in the room shaking their heads in somber agreement as the room turned serious. “I can’t even imagine telling these kids they have to go back to public schools.”

Nevada Republican John Ensign offered an amendment to strike the Durbin language, but it was predictably defeated, 58-39.

D.C. students once again fought for their educational opportunities, many of them openly baffled by the president’s refusal to help them keep their scholarships, especially since he had benefited so much from a scholarship of his own as a child in Hawaii. President Obama finally relented in the face of unpleasant public relations as Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Joe Lieberman went to bat for the OSP students, and the program remained funded.

So, what of this program unions tell us is a scourge? Below are the results of the Department of Education’s own commissioned study (2009). Note the difference between them and the results of the $8 billion Head Start program, which purports to educate the same populace.

Department of Education’s commissioned report on student achievement in the program has show “statistically significant” gains for scholarship kids over public-school counterparts of the equivalent of 3-5 months extra of instruction.

“This isn’t just noise or random variation. This is a true difference,” said Patrick Wolf, the University of Arkansas professor who oversaw the three-year study. “In my opinion, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program has met a tough standard for efficacy in serving low-income students.”

And, a new study reveals the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship isn’t just good policy, but it’s good for budgets:

Dr. Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas and I recently published a cost-benefit analysis of the DC opportunity scholarship in the peer-reviewed journal Education Finance and Policy.

The takeaway, as we noted in the National Review Online:

The District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) produced $2.62 in benefits for every dollar spent on it. In other words, the return on public investment for the private-school voucher program during its early years was 162 percent.

How did this happen? Well, the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program increased the graduation rate of students who won the voucher lottery by 12 percentage points. Couple that with the fact that:

Students who graduate from high school live longer, healthier, and more productive lives than their peers who do not. They make significantly more money and as a consequence pay significantly more taxes, are less likely to commit crimes, and are less likely to become a burden on the public.

…and you see the serious economic benefit of this program.

In total, the net-present value of the benefits of these new high school graduates, who would not have graduated absent the program, is $183 million. The program cost taxpayers $70 million, yielding that 162% rate of return.

This program would have died four years ago, unceremoniously, had Senate Democrats and President Obama gotten their way. Since then, whole new classes of high-school students have graduated. In the past, such students have gone on to Howard and Brown, among many other colleges. No educational solution is perfect for every student, but this one has been weighed on the scales, in public, over and over, and found to be more than sufficient. It has shown results, for the exact students we wish to help, at a lower price than failing them costs at some of the area’s public schools.

Ignoring this opportunity and others like it to do what works is unconscionable. But it’s amazing how quickly the urge “to help even just one child” disappears as soon as a program veers anywhere near a liberal sacred cow.

Just ask Michelle Rhee, whose new book “Radical,” I’m ordering now.

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But it’s amazing how quickly the urge “to help even just one child” disappears as soon as a program veers anywhere near a liberal sacred cow.

Ok, that’s money! Nice!

KCB on February 11, 2013 at 10:04 PM

The Opportunity Scholarship’s $14 million in yearly funding was nixed last week by Senator Dick Durbin, who inserted language in the $410 billion omnibus spending bill to sunset the program at the end of the next school year.

Of course, Dickless Durbin has to pay off his campaign contributors. As they say in Chicago, “You pay for protection, you get protection”. And teachers want protection.

GarandFan on February 11, 2013 at 10:09 PM

it’s amazing how quickly the urge “to help even just one child” disappears as soon as a program veers anywhere near a liberal sacred cow.

Yes, the situational morality never ceases to amaze.

MT on February 11, 2013 at 10:11 PM

Dems know it works. That’s precisely why they try to kill it.

Mark1971 on February 11, 2013 at 10:13 PM

cost taxpayers $70 million

1. privatize entirely;

2. vouch.

Axe on February 11, 2013 at 10:15 PM

Can’t have those kids wandering off the plantation, now can we?

/

CurtZHP on February 11, 2013 at 10:32 PM

Another powerful and devastating issue that fuc*ing dishrag Romney didn’t raise.

rrpjr on February 11, 2013 at 10:37 PM

DC really got up and the community unified to oust Rhee. I think that the unions/communities in many areas would do the same. I’m not real optimistic…but of course I watched part of the Stossel rerun on education in America…feature unionists and Rhee. It is not a pretty picture…and the people don’t seem to mind, do they?

You know, I’m very focused on education and getting the populace back to where it used to be like back in 1831 when Alexis de Tocqueville came here and was so impressed, because an uneducated populace will fall for anything. And if you go and you talk to most people, they mean well but they don’t have much of a breath of education, of knowledge, of understanding what the real issues are, and therefore they listen to pundits on television who tell them what they’re supposed to think, and they keep repeating that and pretty soon they say, “Oh, that must be true.

http://newsbusters.org/blogs/noel-sheppard/2013/02/11/dr-carson-uneducated-populace-will-fall-anything-including-pundits-tv#ixzz2KeKl3WfA

Carson again..on Cavuto. The left has a tidy little scheme, a luddite teacher’s union, a media that requires stupidity to listen to…and pretty soon, the dreams of de Tocqueville will be stomped into the mud

r keller on February 11, 2013 at 10:41 PM

Thanks for highlighting this tragedy, MKH.

Republicans should host a press event, surrounded by DC children, denied Opportunity scholarships by Obama.

They should note with outrage how Obama and Democrats, despite their pompous public bloviating about how they are the party championing the poor,disallow poor kids an educational opportunity that Obama himself,Obama’s kids, and the kids of many members of congress have privileged access to.

This whole situation is rife with hypocrisy, and the fact that republicans don’t take advantage of and exploit political opportunities like this on a range of issues is baffling.

Republicans lose in the court of public opinion because they don’t even bother to engage on issues like this where majority public opinion, even in ‘minority’ communities, is on their side.

Cavalry on February 11, 2013 at 10:43 PM

Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which gives scholarships to thousands of mostly low-income and minority students …

This program would have died four years ago, unceremoniously…

When one compares the liberal positions of pro-choice abortion and anti-choice education, it’s evident liberals prefer low-income and minority individuals be either dead or dumb.

rukiddingme on February 11, 2013 at 11:04 PM

White uber rich elitists, aka Democrats, dont give a da#m about DC residents short of keeping them less educated. This also keeps unions happy and the populace in a perpetual state of dependence on government thus votes. Shame on Dems and that taxpayer-educated president for not helping DC residents get a much better education.

stuartm80127 on February 11, 2013 at 11:21 PM

The program remained funded only for those students who were in it at the point Boehner and Lieberman introduced their legislation.

Remember these from four years ago, when Obama wanted to ax the program:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKzZJoPu1OQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVtVSOOXaWc

and just a few months ago:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wvUplLnuNY

unclesmrgol on February 11, 2013 at 11:22 PM

Democrats are incredibly immoral. They use people and discard them at will for political purposes.

D.C. students once again fought for their educational opportunities, many of them openly baffled by the president’s refusal to help them

I hope some of these kids remember this, and start questioning whether or not all of his policies are in their best interests.

INC on February 12, 2013 at 1:11 AM

I’m glad that The Right is now embracing the idea of significant federal support for education. Of course you’ve forgotten that Federalist stuff, where you’re against a bunch of posturing politicos coming to your town and telling you how to do things. And, of course, this particular program was always a photo of — a handful of kids out of 70,000 in the system, being helped so that John Boehner could pretend he gave a rat’s butt about city kids and take a shot at the teacher’s union.

urban elitist on February 12, 2013 at 7:08 AM

Waiting for Don L self-described conservative and school union president to step in and tell us how school choice doesn’t really work…

dominigan on February 12, 2013 at 7:51 AM

And here’s Urban Elitist coming in to tell us how full of crap everyone is. He likes to ignore that conservatives have wanted school choice for everyone, not just 70,000 poster kids (that was a Dem limitation), and that the program was killed (by Democraps) after successfully demonstrating the pilot program works.

If government schools are so great, then let them compete against everyone else. Give the vouchers to everyone and let the parents decide where their kids should go… after all, its TAXPAYERS money… not government schools money. Let them earn their wages by forcing them to compete. It is only through competition that they will change for the better.

dominigan on February 12, 2013 at 7:55 AM

When one compares the liberal positions of pro-choice abortion and anti-choice education, it’s evident liberals prefer low-income and minority individuals be either dead or dumb.

rukiddingme on February 11, 2013 at 11:04 PM

It’s only by keeping them dumb that Democrats realize a vote harvest off their economic slaves. Democrats always and forever the party of slavery and segregation.

dominigan on February 12, 2013 at 7:58 AM

And here’s Urban Elitist coming in to tell us how full of crap everyone is. He likes to ignore that conservatives have wanted school choice for everyone, not just 70,000 poster kids (that was a Dem limitation), and that the program was killed (by Democraps) after successfully demonstrating the pilot program works.

If government schools are so great, then let them compete against everyone else. Give the vouchers to everyone and let the parents decide where their kids should go… after all, its TAXPAYERS money… not government schools money. Let them earn their wages by forcing them to compete. It is only through competition that they will change for the better.

dominigan on February 12, 2013 at 7:55 AM

If conservatives want school choice for everyone, why haven’t they introduced legislation to do it? They’re just using these kids for political purposes. DC, by the way, run by Democrats, has what is probably the most vibrant charter school movement in the country. 40% of DC kids are in charter schools.

Vouchers, of course, are largely a vehicle for conservatives to funnel money to religious schools and a mass subsidy for the middle class (with two kids, I would have loved to have a subsidy for their 23 years of private school).

Interesting that you want to give a small handful of kids vouchers for elementary schools, but conservatives oppose giving them Pell Grants if they actually make it to college.

urban elitist on February 12, 2013 at 8:12 AM

I hope some of these kids remember this, and start questioning whether or not all of his policies are in their best interests.

INC on February 12, 2013 at 1:11 AM

The fact they were baffled in the first place shows a lack of intelligent life.

yhxqqsn on February 12, 2013 at 9:03 AM

The Daily Beast has a solid write up of Rhee’s story.

blammm on February 12, 2013 at 9:20 AM

There is no reason on God’s earth that the government is needed for this program. Children can be saved if politicians in D.C. who send their own kids to private school, make a matching gift to their school for a local child, and ask a few of their campaign donors to fund the overall scholarship fund. Private dollars. All the power is in your hands to end this. Someone go by the White House and get the first donations.

Fleuries on February 12, 2013 at 9:50 AM

Fleuries on February 12, 2013 at 9:50 AM

heh…

RalphyBoy on February 12, 2013 at 11:35 AM

I’m glad that The Right is now embracing the idea of significant federal support for education. Of course you’ve forgotten that Federalist stuff, where you’re against a bunch of posturing politicos coming to your town and telling you how to do things. And, of course, this particular program was always a photo of — a handful of kids out of 70,000 in the system, being helped so that John Boehner could pretend he gave a rat’s butt about city kids and take a shot at the teacher’s union.

urban elitist on February 12, 2013 at 7:08 AM

What part of Article I, Section 8, Par. 17, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution don’t you understand?

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;

Washington D.C IS local jurisdiction for the federal government.

Mitoch55 on February 12, 2013 at 11:58 AM

And, of course, this particular program was always a photo of — a handful of kids out of 70,000 in the system, being helped so that John Boehner could pretend he gave a rat’s butt about city kids

urban elitist on February 12, 2013 at 7:08 AM

Boehner wants to support the program, Obama wants to kill the program – and you blame Boehner for the inadequate size of the program? Obviously, you are not very bright.

Private schools are just dandy for Obama’s kids (Sidwell Friends), but he opposes any attempts to allow the same benefits for ordinary poor, black kids. One set of opportunities for the political elite, and another set of opportunities for ordinary poor kids.

Your screen name is all to well chosen. You and those of your political persuasion are disgusting hypocrites.

SubmarineDoc on February 12, 2013 at 10:49 PM

api on February 19, 2013 at 4:42 PM