Congress Revives Scholarship Program for Low Income Students

March 30, 2011

Today, members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 471, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act (SOAR), which reauthorizes the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program so that new students can receive these scholarships.

The bill, championed by Speaker of House John Boehner, reauthorizes the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program for five years. The legislation will also allow new low income students to enter the program, creates a sibling preference and modestly increases the scholarship amounts for inflation. The program is a unique, three-sector partnership between school, civic and government leaders to strengthen education across the city; evenly dividing $60 million among public schools, charter schools and scholarships to low income families to use at non-public schools.

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is a federally funded program which has allowed over 3,300 children from low-income families in the District of Columbia to attend non-public schools since 2004. Despite intense congressional scrutiny which has proven the federal program to be effective, Congress voted down full funding of D.C. Opportunity Scholarships in 2009. Since then, no new students have been admitted to the program, even siblings of scholars currently in the program

Opponents have ignored the U.S. Department of Education study showing that scholarship recipients have a 91% graduation rate and that parental satisfaction and demand for the program are overwhelming. The expiration of the program flies in the face of high support for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program from parents and city leaders and has meant the slow death of a successful program that is helping move children in our nation’s capital out of poverty. On March 10, 2011, the House bill to reauthorize the program was passed by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The United States Senate has also introduced the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act of 2011 (S. 206).

Nearly 9,000 low-income families have applied to participate in the program since 2004. OSP scholars continue to show academic gains in reading. The average annual income for a family of four in the OSP is just $25,000.

“This is a great day for the children of the District of Columbia,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington. “Access to quality education should not be denied because of one’s income or residence and Opportunity Scholarships give young people of our nation’s capital hope for a better future.”

Brie Hall
Office of Communications
[email protected]