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D.C. School Voucher Plan Failing to Meet Goals

A private school voucher program imposed on the District of Columbia by the federal government is falling far short of its supporters' expectations, according to a report based on information the U.S. Department of Information was forced to disclose and other publicly available data.

Only 75 of the 1,300 students who used a federal government voucher last year in the District of Columbia came from schools designated as "in need of improvement," according to the 2005 report by the People for the American Way (PFAW).

The study, "Flaws and Failings: A Preliminary Look at the Problems Already Encountered in the Implementation of the District of Columbia's New Federally Mandated School Voucher Program,"  lays out some of the serious problems in the implementation of the plan as well as flaws in the implementing legislation itself. The bottom line: the D.C. voucher program has in no way fulfilled its mission.

In addition to the revelation that only 75 students using vouchers came from schools needing improvement, the report revealed:

PFAW news release declares that the study "demonstrates that concerns raised by opponents of the multimillion dollar voucher program were and continue to be valid."

Among other things, the report points out the irony of Congressional refusal to apply the same criteria to measure the academic performance of students in the private schools accepting voucher students that are applied to the D.C. public schools.

The Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF), which is administering the voucher program under the direction of the Department of Education and the Mayor's Office, complained that the report is "irresponsibly biased."

In response, PFAW said the WSF's "point-by-point responses in fact underscore the accuracy of our report and reconfirm the flaws in the voucher program" and issued a detailed rebuttal  to the WSF charges.

Passage of the D.C. voucher scheme early in 2004 capped a nine-year effort by its backers. The mandatory federal program was finally enacted only when it was attached to an omnibus appropriations bill required to keep the federal government running. While D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and the local school board president reversed their longtime opposition to the scheme, it continued to be opposed by the majority of D.C. Board of Education members and other elected leaders.

PFAW said the report is based on "documents obtained through a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request directly from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), which is overseeing the voucher program, and other publicly-available information."

February 2005