The Spectacle Blog

Unreasonable Prejudice Against School Choice

By on 3.30.11 | 11:08AM

Over at National Review, Katrina Trinko passes along the administration's press release condemning Speaker John Boehner's bill that would reintroduce funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), which provided school vouchers to students in the D.C. school system. The statement reads, in part (emphasis mine):

Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement. The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.  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. 

The first thing to note is that D.C. public schools are not an effective way to improve student achievement in the first place. The second is that the criticism that the voucher program wasn't "effective" simply isn't true.

As Trinko notes, the voucher program led to achievement in several outcomes, including math, reading, and graduation rates -- (OSP) participants' graduation rates were 21 percentage points higher than those of students who applied for the program but didn't win the lottery to get in. 

Yet those statistics don't capture the full value of the program. School choice is good for its own sake. That fact is partly reflected in the measure of parent satisfaction: parents were more likely to be satisfied with their childrens' school if they participated in the OSP. 

Furthermore, the administration apparently focuses on effectiveness at the expense of efficiency: as Cato's Andrew Coulson has shown, the OSP vouchers cost the system just one-fourth of what it costs to send a child to a traditional D.C. public school: roughly $7,000 versus a staggering $28,000. The OSP could easily boost effectiveness by offering a giant check to each parent who parcticipates, if cost is no concern as the administration seems to believe. 

This Democratic administration must view the public schools system first as a jobs program for political allies, and second as an educational venture. How else could its opposition to the OSP be rational?

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