SCHOLARSHIPS FOR OPPORTUNITY AND RESULTS REAUTHORIZATION ACT

April 29, 2016
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.R. 4901, which would reauthorize the D.C. voucher program, known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, through 2021.

   We don't spend enough money on education, so it is hard to justify diverting scarce public resources in order to finance private school education for a handful of students at the expense of the vast majority who attend public schools. Instead, we should focus our limited public resources on initiatives that improve education for all of our children. This is the promise of a public school education in the United States, but the voucher programs undermine that promise while hiding behind the guise of school choice for students in need.

   There are about 50 participating schools in the Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program, but more than half of all of the participants are enrolled in just eight schools. Most of the schools in the program have higher tuition than the voucher covers, limiting the utility of the voucher and shifting the cost of education to the families that can't afford it--essentially, denying the opportunity to students whose families cannot afford the remainder of the tuition. Federal dollars are being provided to a small number of parents who can afford the choice and to others with students who are already enrolled in private schools when that money could have been used for our public school systems.

   Although there are a few who can participate in the program, as the gentlewoman from the District of Columbia said, the results are disappointing. Research consistently demonstrates that the D.C. voucher program is an ineffective program that does not increase achievement. The four reports produced by the Department of Education found no improvement in reading and math after entering the voucher program for students coming from the most struggling D.C. public schools, nor did they find any statistically significant difference in math and reading academic performance from D.C. public schools. On average, Mr. Speaker, these schools are, at best, average.

   When you cite statistics that say some may be doing well, you have to take into consideration that these are children from families who are very supportive of their children and that they would be doing well whether they were in the voucher program or not.

   In addition to the disappointing results, we also found the voucher participants were less likely to have access to English language programs, special education supports, counselors, and other vital supports that ensure that all students remain on the path of academic success.

   If the schools are not producing the promised results, why are we providing them with unrestricted Federal dollars?

   Mr. Speaker, we could have improved the bill. We have a closed rule, so amendments were not allowed, but there were several amendments that should have been considered that I had offered. One would have protected the civil rights of students at schools that receive vouchers by requiring schools to certify that they provide each student with applicable civil rights protections. Another would have required any school receiving funds under this program to comply with the same Federal data and reporting requirements that all public schools or other schools receiving Federal money have to provide. All of our congressional districts provide this information, but, unfortunately, it is not required under the voucher program.

   Mr. Speaker, if we are going to spend $20 million to fund education in the District of Columbia, we ought to use it to improve education for everyone, not just for a few. This bill uses the money to help a few parents by subsidizing tuition in private schools, which many were already attending, at the expense of many, and it extends a program that fails to actually improve the education for students in Washington, D.C.

   I join the gentlewoman from the District of Columbia in opposing this legislation.