Obama Proposal to Extend Opportunity Scholarship Funding Not Enough for DC Children

May 07, 2009

The budget proposal by President Barack Obama to allow the 1,700 students now in the Opportunity Scholarship Program to continue to receive scholarships through high school, while also barring new children from entering the program, means a slow death for an initiative that works, says the superintendent for schools of the Archdiocese of Washington, Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, Ph.D.

“This proposal might help children who are now in the program, but what about the many other children in the city who will never have this opportunity?” said Dr. Weitzel-O’Neill.

Even with the President’s proposal, Congress would have to appropriate funds annually and at a level that adjusts for inflation so the scholarships retain value for the low-income families who depend on them.

Of the 1,700 children in the program, 879 attend a Catholic elementary or high school. 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.

“The President’s proposal essentially creates a two-tier education system for families by barring younger siblings from attending the schools that their older brothers and sisters with scholarships attend and by preventing all other children from participating in the program at all. The President, in his February address to a joint session of Congress said, it ‘will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education…’ He can fulfill this goal by fully funding the popular and proven Opportunity Scholarship Program into the future. The program is a proven academic success, a lifeline for the children and a matter of justice,” Weitzel-O’Neill said.

The Opportunity Scholarship program has been immensely popular. Four applications are received for every scholarship made available.

A study released by the U.S. Department of Education on April 3 demonstrated significant growth in reading by Opportunity Scholarship students after just three years in their non-public schools. Without the scholarships, which provide up to $7,500 towards tuition and some fees for low-income District of Columbia children to attend non-public schools, 86 percent of the children would be attending a public school that is underperforming according to No Child Left Behind. The average family income of scholarship participants is just $24,000 so the program truly serves the neediest.

A Senate hearing on the future of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program is expected on May 13. For more information about the scholarships, visit www.DCOpportunityScholarship.org.

Susan Gibbs
Director of Communications
[email protected]