D.C. Families Celebrate School Choice

Published December 1, 2005

As the Washington, DC School Choice Program was kicking off its second year of operation with full-capacity enrollment, more than 500 participating parents and children gathered at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in the District of Columbia on October 5 to celebrate its success.

Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice and chair of the D.C. Black Alliance for Educational Options, hosted the School Choice Parent Dinner, which included a keynote address from former U.S. Education Secretary Roderick Paige. School choice students of all ages performed a dance selection, violin solos, and choir songs.

“As I looked at the happy faces of the families who came to celebrate educational opportunities for their children, I was reminded of why it is so important to continue to advocate on their behalf for quality education for all children,” Ford said about the evening.

During her opening remarks, Ford likened her work for school choice to the work of the Underground Railroad, because she believes both programs directed people to freedom.

Parents’ Importance Emphasized

Paige reiterated the theme of freedom during his passionate speech about the need to promote school choice. Born in segregated Mississippi, he had no choice in the inferior schools he attended, he said, but his family saw no choice but for him to succeed academically. He reminded parents their children were “not born defective,” and said it is up to them, as parents, to encourage their children to pursue education at all levels.

“What an evening it was!” Ford said. “Hundreds of parents and children attended, along with many of our school choice friends. It was such a wonderful, magical night.”

Sally Sachar, president of the Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF)–the designated administrator of the scholarships in the program–said every parent involved was as important as the keynote speakers.

“It was a wonderful night for everyone involved, especially for the parents who have worked so hard and are so committed to the education of their children,” Sachar said. “The families are the true heroes of the school choice movement, along with Virginia Walden Ford and D.C. Parents for School Choice.”

Demand for Choice Strong

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s first evaluation of the D.C. scholarship program, now in its second year of operation, “a majority of public school parents who applied to the program cited ‘academic quality’ as the primary reason why they wanted to choose a new school. A high percentage of parent applicants, especially those with children attending schools ‘in need of improvement,’ identified fighting and tardiness as serious problems at their current schools.”

The federally funded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has experienced overwhelming demand and was filled to capacity beginning its second academic year. WSF announced in September that 1,705 students have enrolled in 59 non-public District of Columbia schools for the 2005-06 school year.

The program provides eligible low-income children with up to $7,500 per year to pay for tuition, transportation, and fees at participating non-public schools in the District. Because not all scholarships will be funded for the full $7,500, WSF was able to serve more than the 1,613 students funded under the federal appropriation.

Of the students who received new scholarships and enrolled in participating schools this year, 56 percent either attended D.C. public schools identified as “in need of improvement” last year or are attending kindergarten in 2005-06. The median household income for children who received scholarships in the program’s first year was less than $19,000. Approximately 80 percent of the children who applied for scholarships in the program’s first year were living in single-parent homes.

Lori Drummer ([email protected]) directs the Education Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council, where she is responsible for overseeing the development of ALEC policy related to education reform and school choice programs.

For more information …

Additional information on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.heartland.org, click on the PolicyBot™ button, and choose the topic/subtopic combination Education/Vouchers: D.C.