Sec. Spellings, Meet the Facts

A Republican Congress instituted the first federally funded private school voucher program, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, in the District of Columbia in 2004. The program was a political victory for far-right groups and individuals such as voucher sugardaddy James Leininger of Texas. But it looked likely to fade out of existence due to the efforts of the current Democratic-controlled Congress.

Yet U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is doing her darndest to keep it alive.

See Secretary Spellings’ column appearing in yesterday’s Washington Post:

Signed into law by President Bush four years ago, the program is the first to provide federally funded education vouchers to students. It awards up to $7,500 per child for tuition, transportation and fees; in 2007-08 it enabled 1,900 students from the underperforming Washington public school system — the highest total yet — to attend the private or religious schools of their choice.

Now, let’s look at what Spellings has to say in favor of the program.

First she says that parents like the voucher program, but that’s a non-starter. There are also families who are like their neighborhood public schools. The issue is whether it is wise public policy to divert to private and religious schools millions of dollars that would otherwise fund public schools for the vast majority of our schoolchildren.

Second, Spellings writes that a study released last year by the Institute of Education Sciences found that voucher students improved academic performance by voucher students.

Really? In a story published last month by the Post regarding the study she cites, we find that, in fact:

Students in the D.C. school voucher program . . . generally did no better on reading and math tests after two years than public school peers, a U.S. Education Department report said yesterday. . . . The findings mirror those in previous studies of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program . . .

And the IES’ study itself says in its abstract:

Students in the program did not report being more satisfied or feeling safer than those who were not in the program.

Did Sec. Spellings even read the report? If so, then she would have also seen this:

[The same study] found that some participating private schools lacked proper permits to operate. It has also been faulted for allowing ineligible families to receive federal funds and for failing to ensure that families selected accredited schools.

Unfortunately, for now, the program continues.

Efforts to drain money from public schools in order to serve special interests and businesses will continue, both in Texas and nationally. It’s important everyone get involved in saving their neighborhood schools.