Archbishop Carroll High School Students Testify for DC Opportunity Scholarships at Senate Hearing

Archbishop Wuerl Asks What Political Advantage is More Important than Kids’ Lives

May 13, 2009

Two students – a sophomore and a graduate – of Archbishop Carroll High School testified today on behalf of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. This initiative provides up to $7,500 for 1,700 low-income DC residents to attend non-public schools, but its future is in jeopardy after Congress voted in March to cut funding.

Sophomore Ronald Holassie is the District of Columbia’s deputy youth mayor for legislative affairs. Tiffany Dunstan was the valedictorian at Archbishop Carroll a year ago and just completed her freshman year at Syracuse University. Both students h0ave received Opportunity Scholarships.

Dunstan told the legislators that she will be the first member of her family to attend college, saying, “You have the ability to give other DC children the opportunity I had. My education gave me the chance at a successful future. Please don’t end a program that worked for me and is benefiting tons of other children. Three years from now I’ll be walking across a stage receiving my college diploma. Without the OSP, none of this would have been possible.”

Holassie told the senators, that at Archbishop Carroll he finds “more expectations, higher academic expectations. Teachers really want me to succeed. I didn’t get that motivation in public schools. I feel that having Opportunity Scholarships absolutely changed me as a person. We need Opportunity Scholarships for children in DC.”

The Opportunity Scholarship Program was established five years ago as part of a three sector initiative to strengthen education across the city, with new federal dollars for public and public charter schools, and $14 million for scholarships so low-income children could attend the school of their choice. A recent U.S. Department of Education study found that students in the Opportunity Scholarship Program are showing significant progress in reading, the foundation of all learning.

For the 879 Opportunity Scholarship students attending Catholic schools, this finding as well as the success of students like Holassie and Dunstan, is not surprising. Catholic schools have a known track record for providing an academically excellent and values-based education. Catholic high schools have a 99 percent graduation rate and nationally, 94 percent of the students go on to college.

Yet, Congress voted to end funding for the program at the end of the 2009-10 school year. This would force children from their schools and bar other children from participating. Last week, President Barack Obama proposed extending funding for the 1,700 students currently in the program through high school, which would mean the slow death of a successful program that is helping move children in our nation’s capital out of poverty.

As Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl said on the morning of the hearing, “It is difficult to envision what political advantage would outweigh – in the scale of human lives – these young people, their future and their hope. In making political choices, the faces, futures and the hopes of these kids must come first.”

The Archdiocese of Washington is urging permanent, full funding of the program for those already enrolled and to provide the same educational opportunity to all low-income students in the District.

For more information about the scholarships and the students whose lives are being changed, visit https://servingourchildrendc.org/.

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