Congressional Hearing Held on Cleveland Vouchers

Published November 1, 1997

In September, the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program was the focus of a special Congressional subcommittee hearing held at the HOPE Central Academy in Cleveland. Representatives Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan) and Frank Riggs (D-California), co-chairs of the hearing, said they were even more supportive of education reform than ever after listening to testimony from children, parents, teachers, administrators, business representatives, and elected officials.

Those testifying at the special field hearing of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Education and the Workforce included Akron industrialist David Brennan, who founded two HOPE Academies in Cleveland; Democratic City Councilwoman Fannie Lewis; Democratic State Senator Patrick Sweeney; Ohio State Treasurer Ken Blackwell; and scholarship program administrator Bert Holt.

From state administrator Holt’s point of view, the scholarship program “is the unique emancipating educational opportunity for the urban poor.” It is producing “revolutionary results,” she said.

Brennan, who formed the two HOPE Academies to take scholarship children who could not find a place elsewhere, described some of the results his schools have achieved. In one year, overall achievement by all HOPE students went from the 37th percentile to the 45th percentile–a particularly noteworthy achievement because average family incomes in the HOPE Academies are under $7,000 a year, 10 percent of the students have special education needs, and many of the children were in trouble at their prior schools. (See related story on page 1, “Cleveland Parents Are Highly Satisfied with School Choice.” )

After one year in the program, one HOPE students now reads better than does her mother, a graduate of the Cleveland public schools. Pam Ballard’s daughter, once regarded as a troubled child with “no interest in school” and Ds and Fs in all subjects, now is happy in school and earning As and Bs at HOPE Academy. Other parents gave similar testimony and many, like Ballard, let their children speak for themselves.

Making children the focus of attention is the idea behind the Child-Centered Funding proposal of State Treasurer Blackwell, who wants to phase-in school vouchers for every child in Cleveland one grade a year. But, he said, critics view alternatives such as voucher plans as a “slippery slope” that will destroy Ohio’s public schools.

“That’s wrong,” he said. “School choice will destroy the public school’smonopoly, and improve public schools’ performance in the process.”

The only unfavorable comment on the scholarship program came from Cleveland public school teacher Shirley Hawk, a member of the Cleveland School Board and an active member of the Federation of Teachers union representing teachers in the Cleveland Public Schools.