By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, October 21, US Representative Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) announced that he had voted for HR10, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Reauthorization Act. This bill would reauthorize the District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (DC OSP) which gives scholarships to low-income families in the District of Columbia to attend a private school of their choice.
Congressman Palmer said, “Ensuring our children receive a good education is essential, both for each individual child and for the future of our nation. But for many of our most disadvantaged children, a clear pathway to receiving a good education is hampered by being unable to choose the school that is right for them. This law would ensure the continuation of the already successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.”
Rep. Palmer said, “I am a longtime advocate for more options in education. I was pleased when Alabama recently enacted a tax credit scholarship program that is similar in some ways to the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. I am hopeful that the continued success of these programs will lead to more educational choices for all.”
The DC OSP awards disadvantaged students (below 185 percent of the poverty level) who live in the District of Columbia a scholarship worth about $8,300 for K-8 and 12,300 for high school. For the 2013-2014 school year, OSP participants had a graduation rate of 89 percent, compared with 58 percent of those attending public schools in DC.
Before the vote, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave a speech encouraging passage. Speaker Boehner said, “Thank you to all my colleagues who are supporting this important legislation. You know, many of us remember the story of The Little Engine That Could. And what happened was, the train full of toys wanted to get over the mountain to get to the kids on the other side. And the big engine said, ‘no, I can not.’ And the rusty old engine said, ‘no, I can not.’ But the little engine says, ‘I’m not very big, but I think I can, I think I can. Well, from the beginning, the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program has been the little engine that could. We started this back in 2003, with the help of DC’s mayor at the time, Anthony Williams, and DC Councilman Kevin Chavous.”
Speaker Boehner said, “You know, for years, the government was promising the moon to DC families, and spending to the moon essentially. But nothing changed. So we said, if we’re going to support public schools and charter schools, let’s also give low-income families the chance to apply for scholarships to attend the school of their choice. Let’s give them that power. Because if you have the resources, you already have school choice. You can send your kids to whatever school you want. You can move house and home to do that. But if you’re poor, and stuck in some bad neighborhood, your child doesn’t have that chance … or ANY chance. They are just dead in the water.”
Boehner continued, “Well, the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program has been that little lifeline that could. All told, it has helped more than 6,100 students escape underperforming schools. In that time, the program has received some 16,000 applications. Last spring, 90 percent of 12th graders using Opportunity Scholarships graduated. And 88 percent enrolled in a two or four-year college. Of the 1,400 students in the program this year, 87.4 percent would have been in a school that the government has identified as in need of improvement. These are the kind of results parents dream of for their kids. And while it’s my name on this bill, the best champions of this program are some of the most fearless kids you will ever meet. Not only did they have to overcome the doubts of the education establishment. They also had to withstand efforts by the most powerful people in this town to kill this program. Yes, this issue is personal to me, and it has been for a long time. But frankly, it ought to be personal to everyone in this chamber. Those of us who work here, who make a good living here, owe something to the kids in this city. We owe the kids in this city a chance – a fighting chance. That is what I am asking you to do today. Help these kids get over the mountain. Help us keep building the little movement that could.”
Speaker John Boehner is the sponsor of HR10.
Rep. Palmer is a member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a longtime supporter of expanded educational options as the co-founder and President of the Alabama Policy Institute.