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D.C. School Choice Hearing

3:28 PM, May 13, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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The critics of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship had their chance to publicly criticize it in a Senate hearing today, but they were nowhere to be seen.

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel once called the program an "ongoing threat to public education in the District of Columbia," in a letter to President Obama, whom he asked to end the threat of this "ineffective" program. But when the NEA got the chance to testify to the threat, it was nowhere to be seen.

We invited no less than six witnesses who are opposed to the reauthorization of this program to come and testify," said committee Chairman Sen. Lieberman. "And, not a single one accepted our invitation. I say that with regret because I wanted to hear from both sides."

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship and its beneficiaries have been on the federal chopping block since Sen. Dick Durbin cut funding for the program in an omnibus spending bill. Since then, the program's reauthorization has become a political hot potato, as Barack Obama, who promised reform, has had to deal with the inconvenience of publicly opposing a program that serves 1,700 mostly minority, low-income students $7,500 scholarships to private schools of their choice in an underperforming public-school district.

Adding to the inconvenience is the fact that the Department of Education's commissioned report on student achievement in the program has show "statistically significant" gains for scholarship kids over public-school counterparts of the equivalent of 3-5 months extra of instruction.

"This isn't just noise or random variation. This is a true difference," said Patrick Wolf, the University of Arkansas professor who oversaw the three-year study. "In my opinion, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program has met a tough standard for efficacy in serving low-income students."

Critics who have claimed the program has "failed to provide any significant academic improvements to our children's education"- as one of the flyers which stood in for actual opposition stated- were of course not present to hear Wolf's testimony or refute it.