Thursday, June 28, 2012

With More than 17,000 Children on Waiting Lists for D.C. Charter Schools, It’s Time to Expand the Educational Options in the District

Former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is a supporter of vouchers, including the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.  At the American Federation for Children’s 2011 National Policy Summit, Rhee explained why she became a supporter of private school choice.

Rhee had been a longtime supporter of education reform and charter schools.  When she became chancellor, she heard from parents who did what engaged parents do for their children: looked at the assigned public school, if unsatisfied, applied for a high-performing public charter, magnet, or other opportunity.  But when rejected from the alternative—which is represents a sad reality in which a quality option is based on a lottery system—parents had nowhere to turn.

Said Rhee last year:

These mothers would often come to me and say ‘Now what do I do?’  And when looking these women in the eye, if I did not have a spot at a traditional D.C. Public School that I would feel comfortable sending my own two daughters to—because I did send my children to the system—then I thought ‘Who am I to stop this parent from taking a $7,500 voucher?’

Her explanation for supporting the D.C. voucher program is especially relevant today.  The Washington Examiner reported on Monday that more than 17,000 children are on waiting lists to attend a charter school.  As the D.C. Public Charter School Board notes, that is 51 percent of the total students attending a charter school in the city. That's right—there are more than half as many students on charter school waiting lists as there are kids in charter schools in the nation's capital. Enrollment at charter schools grows every year, while enrollment in D.C. Public Schools decreased almost every year since 1969.  Yet, an astounding number of children are still waiting for access to a high-quality education.

It’s time for elected officials—in the D.C. Council, Congress, and the Administrationto get serious about expanding educational options. 

The news that more than 17,000 students are looking for educational options casts a shadow over the Administration’s agreement allow a mere 1,700 students to participate in the voucher program next year.  Unless elected officials at every level and of every political affiliation are willing to tell 17,000 children that they don’t deserve a great education right now, they must support expanding high-quality charter schools as well as the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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