Archdiocese Welcomes Legislation to Extend and Strengthen DC Opportunity Scholarship Program

July 30, 2009

Children in the District of Columbia will have a brighter future under the “Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act of 2009” or “SOAR Act,” which was introduced today by United States Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and bi-partisan co-sponsors. The introduction of the legislation follows the release earlier this month of a letter supporting the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program by a majority of the DC City Council.

SOAR would extend the successful and popular DC Opportunity Scholarship Program for five years. It would allow low-income children the chance to attend a high-performing non-public school; give priority to siblings, thereby easing the strain on families; strengthen the scholarship program through new requirements for certificates of occupancy and teacher qualifications; improve scholarship levels from $7,500 to $9,000 for elementary schools and $11,000 for high schools; and strengthen education across the city by providing $20 million in federal funding for the scholarships and $20 million each for public and charter schools.

“This legislation has put the District’s most at-risk children first,” said Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl. “It is our hope that Congress quickly passes SOAR. It is difficult to envision what advantage anyone could find that would outweigh the futures and hopes of the young people in this city.”

In March 2009, Congress voted to end funding of the successful Opportunity Scholarship Program after the 2009-10 school year. At the time Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) said he opposed extending funding for the scholarships because the existing legislation did not spell out requirements that participating schools have valid certificates of occupancy nor mandate that core-subject teachers have a bachelor’s degree.

“Senator Durbin’s objections to the Opportunity Scholarship Program have been addressed in this legislation,” said Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, Ph.D., superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Washington. “With his objections removed, we now look for his support and that of his colleagues for the kids. This is not about politics, but about children and giving at-risk children an excellent education and hope for the future.”

Of the more than 1,700 students who received Opportunity Scholarships this past year, 879 attended Catholic schools in the District. Visit www.DCOpportunityScholarship.org for more information.

Contact:
Susan Gibbs or Kathy Dempsey
Office of Communications
301-853-4516 or 301-853-4519
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