(Guest post by Dan Lips)
Today, the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a mark-up of the federal government’s budget for the District of Columbia. The panel must decide whether to include President Bush’s proposed funding for continuing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program.
Reading achievement improved for three large subgroups of students, comprising 88 percent of participating students. In fact, their gains put them about two to four months ahead of their peers who did not receive a scholarship. While the report found no statistically significant difference in test scores overall between students who were offered a scholarship and students who were not offered a scholarship, achievement trends are moving in the right direction. The positive effects found in this year’s report are larger than those in last year’s report, and whenever statistically significant effects were found, they favored students who were offered scholarships.
The report also found that scholarship parents were more satisfied with their children’s schools and they believed their children’s schools to be safer than their previous public school. So, test scores for participating kids are tilting higher, and families report being happier when they have a choice.
Of course, these generally positive results won’t be enough to convince some in Congress to support continuing the program. What strikes me as really odd about this debate is that this program is being held to such a high-bar for proving its effectiveness. If only Congress were this critical of all government programs. Every year, the Bush administration tries to terminate as many as 47 federal education programs that have been judged by the federal government to: “have achieved their original purpose, duplicate other programs, are narrowly focused, or unable to demonstrate effectiveness.” But these programs somehow find a way to live on, supporting Ronald Reagan’s quip: “the closest thing to eternal life on this earth is a government program.”
For D.C. families, it’s clear that the Opportunity Scholarship program is one worth keeping. Parent activist Virginia Walden Ford penned a good column for National Review Online on the real impact school choice is having for D.C. families. For more commentary on D.C. school choice, check out William McGurn’s column for the Wall Street Journal or pieces by Kathryn Lopez and Carrie Lukas for NRO. You can also check out a column I wrote for Heritage.
Stay tuned. I’ll report back when we learn what happens in the House subcommittee mark-up.