The DC Voucher
The DC voucher, which is the only federally funded voucher in the country, authorizes $20 million a year in federal taxpayer dollars to fund private schools in the District of Columbia. The voucher program is up for reauthorization in 2019, and legislation has been introduced in both the House (H.R. 787) and Senate (S. 213) to reauthorize the program.
Opposing the DC voucher isn't just a fight for people who live in the District. Everyone’s taxpayer dollars, no matter where they live in the United States, are funding this program. And yet those who live in the District have no representatives who can vote in Congress, and instead are subject to a program that is forced on them by Members who live outside DC.
Congress forced the DC voucher program, formally named the Opportunity Scholarship Program, upon the people of the District in 2003 as a five-year pilot program. Because the program lacked support, supporters of the program sneaked it into an omnibus appropriations bill that Congress had to pass in order to avoid a federal government shut-down.
In 2009, due to its lack of success, Congress moved to end the program: it allowed those students in the program to continue using a voucher, but prohibited new students from entering the program. Then in 2011, despite several studies demonstrating that the program is a failure, Congress reversed itself and passed the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, expanding the program and reauthorizing it through 2016.
The SOAR Act was once again reauthorized in 2017 through an omnibus appropriations bill. The DC voucher program is currently authorized through Fiscal Year 2019.
In 2017, Members of the House began pushing to renew the program once again through the SOAR Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1387). The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a markup of the bill on March 8. The committee rejected three amendments—one to strengthen the evaluation process, one to require private schools that take vouchers to adhere to federal civil rights protections for students with disabilities, and one to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination. It then adopted the bill by voice vote.
The bill never made it to the House floor for a vote. Instead, a provision reauthorizing the DC voucher program was added to the spending bill on April 30, and passed both the House and Senate.
NCPE wrote a letter to the committee opposing the bill. We highlighted many reasons for our opposition, including that the voucher continues to drain funds from our public schools without adequate accountability measures and that the voucher does not provide better educational opportunities for students in the District. The majority of the Council of the District of Columbia have spoken out against the DC voucher too.
After the program's reauthorization was added to the spending bill, we issued a statement.
U.S. Department of Education Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (2019)
U.S. Department of Education Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (2018)
U.S. Department of Education Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (2017)
U.S. Department of Education Study of Applicants & Participating Schools (2014)
US Government Accountability Office Study (2013)
U.S. Department of Education Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Final Report (2010)