Slow start for D.C. vouchers

Washington, DC’s school voucher program is off to a slow start. While Congress approved funding for 1,600 private school scholarships worth up to $7,500, only 1,200 low-income children will receive the vouchers in the fall. About 200 already attend private schools; they’re eligible because their families meet income guidelines. Scholarship Fund officials said more students would have applied if there’d been more time to publicize the program.

Officials said yesterday that they received 1,200 applications from eligible public school students and 521 from eligible children already in private school. Although organizers could have filled the program by accepting all the private school students who applied, Sachar said her group decided — in consultation with the mayor’s office and the U.S. Department of Education — to provide grants to only about 200 private school children.

. . . The small number of families taking advantage of the voucher program is a sharp contrast with the large number who have left the regular public school system in recent years to attend public charter schools, which now enroll about 13,700 students. In interviews before the voucher application deadline, several parents said they were only vaguely aware of the program and unfamiliar with the rules for applying.

Some students were denied vouchers because private school slots are limited in middle and high school. Fifty private schools are accepting vouchers: 30 percent are non-sectarian, 44 percent are parochial and 26 percent are non-Catholic religious schools.

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  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    So why would anyone expect them to run the vocher program any better than they run the public schools?

  2. I hate to be a wet blanket two posts in a row, but I did a quick, random, unsceintific survey of private schools in the District after I read this article. I didn’t find any private K-12 (in the District itself mind you not the metro area)for less than about $9K/year when all the fees were added in. Where’s the other $1,500 coming from?

    I’ve come to realize that the motivation of the people who advocate vouchers are good, but their energy would be much, much better spent fighting the teachers’ unions and school administrators than begging the gov’t for four figure checks.

    But it could be worse. Marion Barry could still be on the city council. Oh wait a minute …

  3. Scott, I think the 50 paricipating private schools have agreed to accept the $7,500 voucher as the full amount if the school charges more than that.

  4. Joanne – How are these schools doing budgets? If someone came to me and said we needed to adjust a budget because some of our clients will be paying with vouchers worth $7,500 instead of paying full freight, well, that would be a major issue. Will the schools raise their prices – leading to drop outs who will want to use vouchers, leading to more prices hikes….

    Richard and I are entirely on the same page, here. I’ve never understood how vouchers would do anything more than add another layer of paperwork.

  5. It happens all the time in the health care industry. Providers accept reduced payments from both government and private insurers. For the voucher to be accepted as full payment, it only has to cover the incremental cost of providing the service.

    I doubt that it would scale up very well if everyone had vouchers, but it’s probably a good way to get the ball rolling in a limited experiment like the one in D.C.