Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) today introduced the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act to extend the successful Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program through 2020. The program grants students scholarships to attend one of 51 participating private schools in the District. Bipartisan companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Speaker John A. Boehner.
The bill would strengthen the program by requiring participating schools to acquire and maintain accreditation. It would also require a study to assess the scholarship’s effect on academic achievement.
“Too many D.C. students don’t have access to a high-equality education, which is the primary tool to get a good-paying job and build a middle-class life in this country. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has given more than 6,000 students the chance to get the education they deserve,” said Senator Feinstein. “This bill extends the program so students continue to have access to high-performing schools. It also strengthens accountability to ensure only the best schools are participating.”
“Ensuring all of our nation’s children have access to the best education possible should not be a partisan issue, and I’m excited to launch this bipartisan effort with Senators Johnson, Feinstein and Booker to reauthorize the school choice program in Washington, DC,” Senator Scott said. “The Opportunity Scholarship Program has greatly increased graduation rates and college success rates for low-income and minority families, and it is clear that school choice is working in our nation’s Capital. I will continue working to encourage choice programs wherever possible – because when parents have a choice, kids have a better chance."
“Wisconsin’s groundbreaking school choice programs have proven that when you give low-income families the opportunity to choose better schools for their children, those children are much more likely to succeed and break the cycle of poverty,” said Senator Johnson. “As chairman of the Senate committee that has jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, I have the unique responsibility to advance this principle in the nation’s capital, where the public school system, often cited as one of the worst in the country, is absolutely failing these children.”
Since the program’s creation in 2004, 6,252 low-income students have received scholarships. In the 2014-2015 school year, 90 percent of scholarship recipients graduated from high school and 88 percent of graduates are enrolled in a two or four-year college or university. The program’s graduation rate is 32 percentage points higher than in D.C. public schools, which stands at 58 percent.
For the 2015-2016 school year, there were more than 8,500 names on waiting lists at D.C. charter schools, an 18 percent increase over the previous year.
The scholarship program is supported by a number of former DC officials, including former Mayor Anthony Williams and former councilmember Kevin Chavous.