Obama turns his back on a deal for the D.C. voucher program

Last
year’s budget compromise between Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner—the
one that resurrected the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program—was quashed
Monday in a single paragraph deep
in the president’s proposed 2013 budget
.

The
president would provide no new funding for the OSP, proposing instead to use
the money available in the program to provide vouchers to currently enrolled
students through the 2013-14 school year—effectively capping the number of
scholarships available at a time when demand is spiking. He then would redirect
$60 million and divvy it among Washington’s
charter schools as well as “the District’s efforts to transform its public
education system.”

Obama’s
proposal shamefully sends the voucher movement back to familiar territory during an election
year.

Despite
the president’s long-held opposition to a scholarship program that has provided
private school tuition assistance to more than 1,600 of D.C.’s most
disadvantaged students, Obama found common ground with Boehner in April in
order to avert a government shutdown and to preserve education initiatives
favored by Democrats. “Life has been breathed into the voucher movement,” the
Brookings Institution’s Grover J. Whitehurst said at the time.

Obama’s
proposal shamefully sends it back to familiar territory during an election
year.

Not
long after he took office, Obama and Congressional Democrats shut down the
voucher program to new students and as recently as last year argued that the OSP
did nothing to raise student achievement. This ignores the findings from the
U.S. Education Department’s own independent evaluator of the program, who found
that the program increased high school graduation rates among participants by
21 percentage points. But that’s beside the point for the president.

When
he and Boehner reached their compromise, D.C. families who wanted to
participate in the program could move on with the assurance that politics had
been set aside. After Congress reauthorized the program, enrollment in the
Opportunity Scholarship grew by 60 percent.

Now
the political headwinds have returned in a $3.8 trillion spending plan that has
no room for this $20 million initiative for the poorest D.C. students. That’s
disgraceful for a president who has chosen to spend as much as $64,000 annually
to match his children with the school that best meets his family’s needs.

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