D.C. vouchers advance, despite Obama

Washington, D.C.’s voucher program could be back: On a 225-195 vote, mostly along party lines, the House passed Speaker John Boehner’s bill reauthorizing and expanding vouchers for low-income students in the District. Under SOAR, students would get $8,000 to attend a private K-8 school, $12,000 for high school tuition.

SOAR will have a tougher time in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

President Obama is “strongly opposed” to SOAR, but he hasn’t threatened a veto.  In a statement yesterday, the administration claimed, “Rigorous evaluation over several years demonstrates that the D.C. program has not yielded improved student achievement by its scholarship recipients compared to other students in D.C.”

That’s not what the rigorous evaluator said in congressional testimony, notes the Washington Post in a pro-voucher editorial. Patrick J. Wolf, the principal investigator who studied the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for the U.S. Education Department, said on Feb. 16:

“In my opinion, by demonstrating statistically significant experimental impacts on boosting high school graduation rates and generating a wealth of evidence suggesting that students also benefited in reading achievement, the DC OSP has accomplished what few educational interventions can claim: It markedly improved important education outcomes for low-income inner-city students.”

In addition, writes the Post, parents say the program lets their children “attend safer schools or ones that strongly promote achievement.”

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarships also raised graduation rates, Jay Greene adds. Wolf’s study (pdf) concluded: Some 82 percent of students offered a voucher completed high school, compared to 70 percent for the control group.

Obama’s anti-voucher move will make it hard to get bipartisan agreement on rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, writes Mike Petrilli on Education Next. “Many Republicans will refuse to play ball with an Administration not willing to compromise on a top GOP priority.”

Yesterday, I linked to a study concluding that Milwaukee voucher students don’t outperform similar students in the city’s public schools.

But Milwaukee voucher students are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to a four-year college than similar public school students, writes Jay Greene, citing a study (pdf) released today by University of Kentucky researchers.

Attending a private school with a voucher resulted in about a 7 percentage point improvement in the probability of attending a four year college.  Considering that is a move from about 32% to 39% attending 4 year college, it is a big effect.

Compared to similar public school students, voucher students do worse in the early grades but perform better in the older grades. After three years, “rates of achievement growth are statistically similar.”

Indiana’s House has passed a voucher bill that would provide tuition aid to children from low- and middle-income families earning up to $60,000 a year.

About Joanne