Scholarship Act Is D.C. Youngsters’ Best Hope for Education, by Arturo Silva

OverviewHouse Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Dan Coats (R-IN), and Sam Brownback (R-KS) have introduced legislation, “District of Columbia Student Opportunity Scholarship Act of 1997,” to grant scholarships to nearly 2,000 low-income students in the District of Columbia to attend a public or private school of their choice.

Some provisions include:

* Students whose family incomes are below the poverty line may receive a scholarship of up to $3,200. Students whose family incomes are above the poverty line but below 185 percent of the poverty level may receive the lesser of 75 percent of tuition or $2,400. Figures are indexed to inflation.

* The legislation creates a seven-member private, nonprofit corporation to administer the scholarship program to bypass local and federal bureaucracies. One board member is appointed by the District’s mayor and the other six are chosen by the President from a list submitted by the Speaker of the House and Majority Leader in the Senate. Board members are not allowed to work for the government.

* The scholarships may be used for tuition costs at a public or private school in D.C. and adjacent counties in Maryland and Virginia. Scholarships of $500 are available to students attending public school in D.C. receiving tutoring assistance.


The Miserable State of D.C. Public Schools

* About $7,500 is spent annually on each student attending D.C. public schools. The result of this exorbitant spending: 65% of all D.C. public school children test below their grade levels.

* At least 40% of D.C. public school students either leave the school system or drop out of it before graduating.

* An astonishing 85% of D.C. public school graduates who enter the University of the District of Columbia need an average of two years of remedial education before beginning their course work toward degrees.

* The D.C. public schools employ a central office administrator for every 20 teachers. The national average is one administrator for every 38 teachers.


The District of Columbia Student Opportunity Scholarship Act of 1997

* The “District of Columbia Student Opportunity Scholarship Act of 1997” doesn’t take one dime away from D.C. public schools. In fact, it adds money to the school system because some of the 2,000 students receiving scholarships would choose to leave the public school system. This would leave the money that would have been spent on that child for his or her schoolmates.

* The D.C. Scholarship Act is not a voucher program. A voucher program takes money away from existing education funds for every child that chooses a private school over a public one. Under this bill, the public school system funding is unchanged if a child leaves the public school. The money for the scholarships is taken from a newly created program which does not draw resources from the D.C. school budget.

*At least 60 schools within the Washington Beltway cost less than $3,200 per student, allowing parents receiving scholarships a wide selection of schools to choose from for their children to attend.

* Schools accepting children receiving scholarships are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Health and safety laws must also be obeyed.


The American Community Renewal Act of 1997

* If passed, the “American Community Renewal Act of 1997” (lead sponsors are Congressmen Jim Talent (R-MO), J.C. Watts (R-OK), Floyd Flake (D-NY) and Senators Spencer Abraham (R-MI) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT)) would require communities receiving tax cuts and other benefits intended to stimulate urban enterprise to adopt a school scholarship program similar to the one offered in D.C.

* Each community’s school scholarship program would be designed and operated by a qualified local entity.

* The scholarships are means-tested for those families making no more than 185% above the poverty rate for the area.

* Eligible schools include public, private, religious, and alternative public schools.

* Scholarships can be no more than the per pupil expenditure in the school district and no less than 60% of the per pupil expenditure or the cost of the qualified private school tuition.


The Conservative Alternative to Racial Preferences: School Choice

* The lack of a decent primary and secondary education is the most substantial reason for the rapid decline in admissions rates for blacks and Latinos at elite graduate schools in California and Texas. The end of racial preferences at these schools is a symptom, not the cause, of the inadequate education being offered to most public school students.

* The surest way to free minorities from economic failure is not to defend unjust and ineffective racial preference programs, but to call for the reform of the current public education system so that all America’s children will receive a sound education.

* Public school students in urban areas are condemned to almost certain economic failure unless parents are allowed to choose the best schools for their children.


Washington D.C. Residents Support School Choice

* A June 4 poll released by The American Education Reform Foundation and conducted by The Polling Company and Global Strategy Group reveals that 64% of D.C. residents would send their children to private school if money were not an issue.

* By a margin of 59% to 17%, the same poll reveals that D.C. families earning less than $25,000 support the provisions of the D.C. Scholarship Act.

* By a margin of 61% to 25%, single parents favor the school choice program.

* Among African-Americans, a margin of 48% to 29% believe creating a school choice program from the District’s federal payment is an excellent or good use of taxpayer dollars.

* When given the choice, 62% of African-American D.C. residents would not send their children to public school.


Arturo Silva is coordinator of Project 21, a project of The National Center for Public Policy Research.


Information from: Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum #483 “How Congress Can Help Poor Children Learn in D.C. Schools,” 6/3/97; “District of Columbia Residents Say ‘Yes’ to Scholarships,” by The Polling Company, 6/4/97; Summary of the “District of Columbia Student Opportunity Scholarship Act of 1997;” Summary of “The American Community Renewal Act of 1997.”

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.