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Return Of DC School Vouchers Praised

 WASHINGTON  -- The American Federation for Children (AFC) praised the introduction of bipartisan legislation that would reauthorize the school voucher program in the nation's capital, allow new low-income students to enter the program, increase the amount of scholarships, and enhance the program's rigorous accountability measures.

The Scholarships for Opportunities and Results (SOAR) Act would renew the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which currently only serves students already enrolled in the program after the Administration and the previous Congress prevented new children from enrolling.

In addition to reauthorizing the program for new and current participants, the SOAR Act, introduced at a Wednesday press conference by Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), would also create a sibling preference for students enrolled. The bill is poised to help hundreds more children in Washington, D.C.  Prior to the 2009-2010 school year, 216 students had their scholarships revoked, while hundreds of additional applications could not be processed because of the Administration's decision.  

OSP students who actually used their scholarships had graduation rates of 91 percent, 21 points higher than those expressing interest in the program who did not receive a scholarship. Four separate university studies have also shown extremely high parent satisfaction for those enrolled in the OSP.

"This program works," said AFC board member Kevin P. Chavous, a former D.C. Councilman. "Student achievement is rising, parents are happy, and kids are safer in their schools. It's time for Congress to do the right thing when it comes to low-income children in the nation's capital, and we're happy that they've taken this first step."

Since 2004, nearly 9,000 low-income families have applied to participate in the OSP. The average annual income for a family of four involved in the program is $25,000, and more than nine in 10 current OSP students would be attending a "school in need of improvement" if not for their scholarship.

There is strong support for the OSP from a majority of District residents, and a majority of the City Council has also supported reauthorization of the program, which serves families in the city's neediest areas.

"There's only one program in America where the federal government allows parents from lower-income families to choose the schools that are the best for their children," Boehner said at the press conference, "and it's right here in D.C."


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