Sens. Johnson, Feinstein, Scott Introduce Legislation to Extend School Choice Options for Low-Income, Minority Communities During National School Choice Week

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) introduced legislation Thursday to reauthorize the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, and ensure that students and their families in the District of Columbia have continued choice and increased opportunity for their education through the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OPS). Yesterday marked the 15-year anniversary of the signing of the SOAR Act.

The senators had this to say about the bill:

“The Opportunity Scholarship Program has helped students from low-income households attain a graduation rate 21 percentage points higher than comparable students. The fact that twice as many children apply for the program as can be accommodated shows how strong demand is from parents seeking such positive results for their children,” said Senator Johnson. “This is about providing hope for a better future to students by allowing them to choose schools that meet their needs. I sincerely hope my colleagues will join our bipartisan group in supporting a program that gives children the opportunity to create a better life for themselves.”

“Education is the key to a better life with more opportunity, but unfortunately, many students are unable to receive a high-quality education,” said Senator Feinstein. “Our legislation to extend the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program provides continued federal support for the district’s public and charter schools, while also affording low-income students the opportunity to attend accredited private schools. In its first 15 years, the scholarship program has helped more than 8,400 students attend the school of their choice. Our bill would extend the program, while maintaining the improvements we made in 2015.”  

“Any time we have the opportunity to offer a struggling child and family a hand up onto the ladder of educational achievement, everyone wins,” said Senator Tim Scott. “For more than a decade, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), has been a lifeline for children in our nation’s capital — who like I did — grew up in poverty. I’ve always said that no child’s zip code should dictate their access to quality education. On this, the 15th year anniversary of the program, I am proud to join a bipartisan group of Senators in extending the continued successes of the D.C. OSP.”

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) also expressed support for the effort:

“I am excited to launch this effort with a champion for school choice, Senator Ron Johnson. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program provides low-income students the chance to succeed and break the cycle of poverty by helping them to escape failing or underperforming schools. We need to reauthorize this program and the great results it has produced, raising graduation rates and improving all education centers – traditional public schools, charter schools and private schools.”

Background

  • Reauthorizes Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act funding for District of Columbia public schools, public charter schools, and Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) schools until the end of fiscal year 2024.
  • Improves the U.S. Department of Education’s evaluation of the OSP. 
    • The current annual evaluation does not assess OSP students’ growth over time.
      • For example if a fourth grader begins the year at a 2-grade reading scale but improves to a 3.5-grade reading scale, the current evaluation doesn’t capture that improvement. It simply measures if they are performing at their grade level.
      • The new evaluation will assess an OSP student’s progress during each school year.    

 

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