WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Tuesday said a federally-funded program that allows low-income District of Columbia students to attend private schools on scholarship is an educational success story that should be continued.

The Senators vowed to fight to extend the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) – which is set to expire after the 2009-2010 school year absent Congressional action.

“The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has been an issue of great national debate,” Lieberman said. “In the midst of this debate are real people – real parents looking for the best for their children and real children with all the talent God gave them just looking for the opportunity to develop it.

“The standard for judging any education program should be whether it works, whether it improves the performance of students. That’s not a Democratic or Republican – or even an Independent — question. It is a factual question, based on scientific evaluations and test scores. And when we apply that non-ideological, non-partisan standard to the Opportunity Scholarship Program, my conclusion is that the program works.”

Collins said: “Experts have carefully studied the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and concluded that the educational success of the program’s participants in reading has outpaced those in D.C. public schools. Under the Administration’s budget proposal, no new students would be permitted in the program although no federal funds are being diverted from public schools to this program. If Congress were to discontinue funding for D.C. opportunity scholarships, it is estimated that 86 percent of the students would be reassigned to schools that do not meet ‘adequate yearly progress’ goals in reading and math. We should not allow that to happen.”

At the hearing, titled “the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program: Preserving School Choice For All,” Patrick J. Wolf, who studied the program for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) said that enrolled students showed statistically significant educational improvement. The program was one of only four out of 11 programs studied for IES under similarly rigorous procedures that showed statistically significant results.

Congress established the D.C. OSP in 2004 as part of a broader educational strategy to provide new funding in equal parts for D.C. public schools, charter schools, and the OSP. The program expires at the end of the 2009-2010 school year, but the Obama Administration announced it will support allowing those children already in the program to continue until they graduate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised Lieberman a full Senate vote on reauthorizing the program before it expires.

“This debate is not about pitting private schools against public schools, and the Opportunity Scholarship Program diverts no public money from public schools,” Lieberman said. “Those who can afford to send their children to private schools when they are dissatisfied with the public schools they might otherwise go to do so for obvious reasons: to provide their children with the best education available. They do so as good parents who deeply care about their children’s future. So why should we deny that opportunity to lower-income parents who want the best for their children too?

“In America, it should not be a privilege for our children to get first rate educations. It should be a right. Without a quality education for all, there cannot be equality for all.”

Additional witnesses included: Latasha Bennett, the parent of an OSP student; two OSP participants, Tiffany Dunston and Ronald Holassie; Former D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Sidwell Friends Head of School Bruce B. Stewart.