President Obama Cuts Deal on D.C. Vouchers—Again
It was reported yesterday afternoon that President Obama has made a deal with Congressional leadership to continue funding the D.C. voucher program. In his fiscal year 2013 budget, President Obama asked for no new funding of the program, but the recently announced deal represents an about-face: Not only will the deal continue the program for another year, but it will also increase enrollment by about 85 students and expedite the approval of children into the program. The program, created in 2004 by Congress, is the only federally directed voucher program in the nation. Many students in the D.C. voucher program spend the funds they receive at parochial schools, which, to many advocates—including the Reform Movement—constitutes an obvious violation of church-state separation protected by the First Amendment.
The end of the D.C. voucher program seemed to be in sight in 2009, but Congressional Republicans managed to reinstate it. Similarly, even though President Obama agreed to allow the program to remain intact as part of a budget deal last year, he did not call for any new funding of the program. Unfortunately, this new deal will fund 85 additional students in the program. Yesterday’s announcement continues the disappointing roller coaster that voucher opponents have been riding for years now, as the program appears to be revived yet again.
While the Supreme Court has upheld an Ohio voucher program similar (but not identical) to the D.C. program, the issue of adequate funding for public education remains. The District of Columbia public school system would greatly benefit from additional public dollars that are diverted to private and religious schools through the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. A 2010 evaluation of the D.C. program conducted by the Department of Education indicated no significant difference in the overall academic achievement of students in the voucher program as compared to students in D.C. public schools.
President Obama has often highlighted the importance and necessity of public education in fostering a well-educated populace. How does making a deal to extend the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, which goes back on his very public opposition to voucher programs, help the education system he so enthusiastically wants to reform?