It is essential the Opportunity Scholarship reauthorization begin immediately

March 12, 2009

In a letter sent today to parishes and schools across the region, and to hundreds of supporters nationwide, Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, Ph.D., superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, said Congressional action to end the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program was “deeply disappointing,” and called for the reauthorization process to begin immediately.

She wrote, “Our city’s children cannot put their education on hold while Congress debates their future. The program must be reauthorized without delay, or over 1,700 children could be forced out of their schools next year and their education disrupted. The Archdiocese of Washington will continue to do all that we can. It is essential that our city leaders take action to support this program and urge Congress to enact new legislation. This process must begin immediately. It is a matter of simple justice for the children and their families.”

Without immediate reauthorization, the students will lose their scholarships at the end of the 2009-2010 school year.

Of the more than 1,700 students currently receiving Opportunity Scholarships, 879 attend Catholic schools in the District. The federally-funded scholarships provide low-income families with up to $7,500 towards tuition and some fees at participating non-public schools. The program was established five years ago as part of the three-sector initiative to strengthen education across the city that also has brought millions of new federal funds to the District’s public and charter schools.

The full text of Dr. Weitzel-O’Neill’s letter is below:

Five years ago, Congress, working in partnership with the leadership of the District of Columbia, brought hope to thousands of city children. This week, that hope suffered a major blow when the United States Congress voted to end the Opportunity Scholarship Program and to require new legislation for the program to continue beyond 2009-2010. This is deeply disappointing because children’s futures are at risk.

Our city’s children cannot put their education on hold while Congress debates their future. The program must be reauthorized without delay, or over 1,700 children could be forced out of their schools next year and their education disrupted. The Archdiocese of Washington will continue to do all that we can. It is essential that our city leaders take action to support this program and urge Congress to enact new legislation. This process must begin immediately. It is a matter of simple justice for the children and their families.

For the past five years, Opportunity Scholarships have given low-income children access to a quality education in schools of their choice. They are an integral part of a unique three-sector initiative to strengthen education across the District of Columbia. In addition to the scholarships, the initiative brings substantial new federal funds to the District to support and strengthen educational opportunities for the children in public schools and charter schools.

Today, 879 of the 1,700 Opportunity Scholarship students attend Catholic schools. The program works and the students are thriving.

For decades, the archdiocese has provided significant financial support to educate children from some of the neediest communities in the District of Columbia, but we cannot meet the entire need alone. Only by working together may we ensure children have access to a quality education and a path out of poverty now and into the future.

These children deserve a chance. We need to stand up for them and give them hope for their future. Your voice is needed and will be critical in encouraging our city leaders to take the lead on behalf of the children of our city, and Congress to reauthorize this successful program. I will let you know very soon the steps we plan to take to move this reauthorization effort forward.

Contact:
Susan Gibbs
Director of Communications
301-853-4517
[email protected]